Back in 1991, there was good reason to believe rock ’n’ roll was dead, what with the last spritzes of hair metal clearing the way for the ascendancy of hip-hop and dance music. But where Nirvana’s Nevermind would apply an emergency resuscitation, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless—released mere weeks later—was already looking forward to rock’s afterlife, transmuting all the noise and volume into weightless, vaporous drones. Fittingly, My Bloody Valentine would pretty much play dead for the next two decades; meanwhile, Loveless’s influence permeated the alt-rock landscape, from the arena-quaking fuzz of the Smashing Pumpkins to the neon-tinted electro of M83. But as much as MBV mastermind Kevin Shields tried to chalk up his band’s infinite absence to protracted record-company disputes, popular perception suggested he had gone mad trying to top his masterpiece.
The truth is more prosaic: Masterpieces don’t necessarily need to be topped. The Beatles answered Sgt. Pepper with the stripped-down White Album; Radiohead reacted to OK Computer with the insular Kid A. In that spirit, mbv is a perfectly logical—if interminably delayed—next step for My Bloody Valentine. Where Loveless overwhelmed you with the totality of its sound, mbv dismantles and reformulates it, foregrounding the corrosive textures that got smeared into Loveless’s miasmic mix, while emphasizing My Bloody Valentine’s underrated sense of melody. It’s the most impenetrable thing the band has released, but it’s also the most intimate—to a paraphrase a signature song, it’s hard as ice, but warm inside. Every element of this album—from its surprise release online last weekend to its lower-case title to its patchwork cover art—reinforces the notion that mbv should be approached less as a capital-E event than a peculiar, private pleasure.
What’s most remarkable about the record is how it mirrors the band’s own extended disappearance—and gradual reawakening—by inching forward at a glacial pace before bright synth melodies poke holes through the murky haze and build to a triumphantly blown-out, peak-power climax. (Seriously: the crashing-helicopter cacophony of “Wonder 2” alone justifies the wait.) While some emergent influences—the high-beam psychedelia of Stereolab, the thunderous clatter of drum ’n’ bass—suggest that Shields has been sitting on these songs since the mid-’90s, the somewhat dated devices only enhance mbv’s disorienting, dislocating feel. mbv is the sound of My Bloody Valentine reemerging from a 22-year alien abduction, but thinking their absence lasted mere seconds.
Playlist picks “New You,” “In Another Way,” “Wonder 2”