If a band’s career trajectory is a graph of its leader’s life, Kevin Shields is batshit. It’s taken him and his pioneering shoegaze group, My Bloody Valentine, 22 years to release MBV, the follow-up to its legendary sophomore album, Loveless. During that time, Shields produced very little, outside of the occasional cover song, remix, guest collaboration, and reunion tour. But amid intense speculation—from himself and others—about his soundness of mind, he’s maintained that a third album was in the works, even if that possibility seemed to retreat further each year into the same inchoate ether that shrouds his best music.
Granted, Loveless didn’t have a quick or easy birth. It nearly bankrupted its label and destroyed the band forever. But what it accomplished was worth the anguish: In no uncertain way, it revolutionized indie rock, an influence that still echoes in dozens of imitators and subgenres—not to mention an overarching aesthetic, one where ambience is deployed not quietly, but with the majestic enormity of an angel getting sucked through a warp engine. MBV doesn’t mess with that aesthetic. If anything, it takes the pulped angel corpse that is Loveless and feeds it back into the machine for one more spin around the macrocosm.
“She Found Now” opens the disc with a pulsing pattern of melody that bobs along on a dreamy rhythm. The guitars are achingly similar to those of Loveless: churning, overloaded, and kaleidoscopically unstable. The fused-glass vocals of Shields and fellow singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher take on the same properties as they have in the past, a honey-colored smear of whispers and sighs in which syllables are no more distinct—and no less lulling—than waves in an ocean.
What follows is deliciously Loveless-like. Heavier and more pneumatic with its droning, “Only Tomorrow” is a pretty, approachable tune whose low-end nonetheless threatens to buckle under its own weight. That marriage of delicacy and disintegration has long been one of Shields’ favorite formulas, and he uses it more typically on the forceful, fluttering “Who Sees You”—which comes with an opening drum riff that sounds so similar to that of Loveless’ “Only Shallow,” it feels less like a coincidence and more like a playful refrain.
The sparsely appointed, deeply textured keyboards of “Is This And Yes” form a pillowy interlude before “If I Am,” a track built on sleepy-eyed funk and shimmering sheets of vocals. The funk really comes down, though, on “New You.” At first, it sounds like a throwback to the Happy Mondays-ish dance beats that permeated British indie rock—shoegaze included—in the early ’90s. Really, though, the beat calls back to A Certain Ratio’s post-punk classic “Do The Du,” only slowed down, slathered in cotton candy, and ventilated with MBV’s airiest arrangement.
From there, the album relinquishes the familiar and swims far beyond the sight of shore. “In Another Way” opens with a squall of atonality and a shuffling pummel of drums before the vocals—with a bit of acidic bite to their incomprehensible softness—kick in. It’s not entirely new; its closest ancestor is Loveless’ “Soon,” although the pinprick vamps of sampled guitar on “In Another Way” mesh with the stuttering rhythm in a far more orchestral way. “Nothing Is” is MBV’s least essential track, three and a half instrumental minutes of jackhammer ambience that break up the landscape without sizably contributing to an album that cries to be longer.
MBV closes with “Wonder 2,” and it’s the album’s least cuddly song, relatively speaking. It’s also its strongest statement. Chopped, looped, sampled, and sculpted, “Wonder 2” is a distilled and almost abstracted realization of Shields’ methodology: the studio as a compositional tool, the act of self-deconstruction as a source of creation, a remix of a remix of something that never existed anywhere but in Shields’ forebrain. The song holds melody like a memory, an evolutionary vestige, the reminder of a bygone era before digitization lent its cadence to biology. It also kind of sounds like a helicopter, and helicopters sound pretty awesome.
It’s tough to tell what Shields was shooting for with MBV, let alone if he came close to hitting it. How far back do the basics of these recordings stretch? Is the album an attempt to re-create what a 1993 follow-up to Loveless might have sounded like? Or is it a clean-slated attempt to open a fresh chapter in the band’s existence? Conscious or not, the loose ends from Loveless are impossible to ignore, but neither are they easy to condemn. Loveless’ main drawback was the fact that, for 22 years, it stood as a monument to thwarted promise, a teaser of what might have come if only Shields and crew had gotten their shit together. Finally, they have. And regardless of whether it’s an echo of the past or a bridge to the future, MBV stands as something potentially timeless—and immediately breathtaking.