My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 album “Loveless” is a vertigo-inducing, woozy masterwork, the crowning achievement of the British shoegaze movement. It is a singular piece that effectively killed off its own genre and, quite nearly, My Bloody Valentine itself, because after “Loveless,” most of the other shoegaze bands threw up their hands and either gave up or joined the ranks of Brit-pop. Similarly, My Bloody Valentine’s guitarist and sonic architect, Kevin Shields, reportedly spent the next 22 years in that unique artistic stasis that comes from trying to follow or top one’s own greatest achievement.
Most fans reached the acceptance stage of mourning over the lack of a third My Bloody Valentine album years ago, but then Shields announced last week that the album was days away from release, then posted “mbv” on Saturday through the band’s official Web site. From the first heavy washes of beautiful distortion on the opening “She Found Now,” it is clear that this is not an album that was created recently after a lengthy period of inactivity. It actually sounds like Shields spent the last 20 years working on “mbv,” meaning that it begins as the logical next step after “Loveless” and proceeds to trip wildly down that path into areas that are disarmingly lovely and challenging.
Think of “mbv” as three discrete pie pieces: an opening trio of songs (“She Found Now,” “Only Tomorrow” and “Who Sees You”) that bend and warp like top-shelf “Loveless” tracks, followed by a middle part dominated by singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher that contains some of the band’s most gorgeously accessible music (especially the lovely “New You”), and then a final dive into the mind thresher. These last songs, culminating in the hypnotic “Wonder 2,” are testimony to Shields’ unique skill at pushing sonic frontiers and creating new-level headphone trip music.
There are few precedents in music for such a lengthy gestation, and “mbv” took nearly 10 years longer than Guns ‘N Roses’ “Chinese Democracy” to complete, but the results are far more rewarding. We might never fully understand Shields’ methods or why My Bloody Valentine took so long to create “mbv,” but that is not nearly as important as the fact that, at long last, “Loveless” has a completely worthy successor.