The first time I heard My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, the album seemed to flash and recede in an instant—a single, seamless blurred moment of majestic noise. Afterward, I was left with the abiding impression that I'd never experienced silence before. I'd never noticed how silent silence could be. The world, it seemed, was so quiet. My initial impressions were illogical snapshots of something at first too dense to make sense of: the echo of a thousand sirens singing in unison, the mind-shattering moan of a guitar come alive.
With time, and many more listens, I was finally able to unwind the album's sounds: "Only Shallow" was the shivered whirl of guitar as god-machine revving up to full throttle, "To Here Knows When" was an impossible hybrid of dance and drone music, "Blown a Wish" sounded like the best pop song ever written underwater, and "Soon" was vagueness as a seven-minute, heaven-reaching body high. Loveless was rock as unrestrained femininity, guitar music utterly phallus-less, yet more aggressive in sound than ever before or since. It was plush and radiant, yet it made every metal album seem soft, and every noise album sound quiet.
To this day, listening to Loveless feels like swimming in a warm bath of opiates and lust. It's a primal, wombadelic, every-direction, every-color echo of what it feels like to be human, to be a mess of synapses, sexual desire, anxiety, obsession, fears, and hopes. The album is an overwhelming sound portrait of the human experience—the sound of flesh and blood.
No follow-up could ever reach the bar set by 22 years of romanticizing one of the most discussed artifacts in music history, but m b v comes close. It exists somewhere between My Bloody Valentine's first two albums, between angular guitar contortions and velvety slide-guitar currents. Within the first few seconds, it becomes immediately clear that this is a My Bloody Valentine album. From the opening track, "She Found Now," that MBV muscle memory in your eardrums kicks back in, and it's evident that even after all these years, Kevin Shields can still conjure transcendence through swirling guitars and androgynous vocals.
m b v can be divided into three distinct segments. The first is strikingly familiar, reminiscent of Loveless: "She Found Now" opens with all the intensity of being born in an echo chamber, while "Only Tomorrow" and "Who Sees You" paint sine waves with reverb that dance like ribbons in a cyclone. But the slight variations on the Loveless formula—all atmosphere-bending guitars, warping walls of sound, and blankets of reverb—are essentially negligible: The vocals are mixed higher, the drums are less buried, and there is, in general, less ebb and flow to the structure, as the tones linger, unchanged, longer than before. After the understated, digital organ interlude "Is This and Yes," m b v enters decidedly more poppy territory. The breathtaking "If I am" and "New You" channel the oceanic melodies of "Blown a Wish," woozy, oscillating tones instilling a numbing sensuality, while the aqueous whispers bleed and spill like watercolors.
The album's final segment is a quantum leap forward for My Bloody Valentine, a paradigm shift that very well could have changed the course of contemporary music had the album been released in 1996 as originally expected. The noises and shapes on the last three tracks are unlike anything we've ever heard from the band before. "In Another Way" opens with piping screeches and jungle beats; these rumbling industrial gyrations progress like a piano being flung down a flight of stairs. The song introduces a new hue to the My Blood Valentine palette, while all the while somehow retaining the band's trademark ethereality. If that track hints at the clamor of industrial machinery, "Nothing Is" explicitly references it: a full three minutes of drum-heavy undulation that cycles in continuum.
"Wonder 2" begins with a chill-inducing blast, one not dissimilar to the guitar howls on Isn't Anything's opener "Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)." This is one of the fiercest tones ever drawn from a guitar: the sound of being thrown headlong into the whirling turbines of a jet engine. The track, as a whole, is something entirely unique, and altogether alien, a seamless hybrid of drum n' bass and Shield's fourth-dimensional guitar swells. These might be the most ineffable depths My Bloody Valentine has explored with the guitar, an exhibition of Shield's inventiveness pushed to its furthest illogical endpoint. A few twists and turns shy of perfection, m b v is the innovation and sonic warmth of My Bloody Valentine rekindled and made anew.