MUSIC This is the reunion for which we dared not hope. Until this year, My Bloody Valentine's genre-defining masterstroke of the shoegaze movement, 1991's Loveless, was the last we had heard from the Irish-English band, and as a result, it was canonized as one of those pristine, "perfect" albums, frozen in time and untainted by inferior follow-ups.
And then, this past Groundhog Day, the unthinkable happened: after an excruciating, 22-year wait, and countless broken promises, bandleader Kevin Shields casually posted a new record, mbv, on the web, In Rainbows style, surprising his diehard fans with the legendary third album they had been hopelessly fantasizing about only a week before.
This Friday, My Bloody Valentine will pay a visit to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium for its first SF show since the release of mbv.
Headed up by Shields (the band's mastermind, principal guitarist, and sometimes-vocalist), and backed by Bilinda Butcher on guitars and vocals, Deb Googe on bass, and Colm Ó Ciosóig on drums, My Bloody Valentine kicked off its career in 1983 as a rather inconsequential, punk-ish pop band, before moving on to bigger things.
The You Made Me Realize EP and the group's first full-length, Isn't Anything, (both released in 1988) showed great promise, layering Jesus and Mary Chain-ish guitar squalls atop tender pop songs, with androgynous, barely intelligible vocals submerged in the surrounding fuzz. Equally seductive and menacing, this was the sound of the shoegaze genre taking form.
The subsequent release of Loveless presented a vivid realization of Shields' musical vision, full enough to put him in a state of creative paralysis for the next two decades, unsure of where to go next. The songs were more harmonious this time around, often reminiscent of Brian Wilson in their structures and chord progressions. Also, the guitar sound was more rounded and hypnotic than ever before; songs like "Loomer" and "Come In Alone" found Kevin Shields using his "glide guitar" method to great effect, constantly pushing and pulling on the tremolo arm of his Fender Jaguar for a woozy, undulating sound, inviting the listener to get blissfully lost in the midst of it all. Upon its release, and even to this day, Loveless presented some of the most tactile, emotionally complex guitar rock ever committed to tape.
With the exception of a cover for a Wire tribute album, some soundtrack work for Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation, the occasional collaboration with Primal Scream or Patti Smith, and a brief reunion tour in 2009, Shields and My Bloody Valentine remained stagnant from'91 to February of this year. Over the course of those two decades, Loveless has built the kind of reputation normally reserved for recordings of the Beatles era; even Phish's Trey Anstasio has proclaimed it the greatest album of the '90s. Loveless' seminal blend of pop purity and uncompromising noise has spawned a thousand imitators, but no worthy successor, rendering the release of mbv an uncommonly big deal in the music world, even in a year dominated by comeback efforts, from David Bowie to Boards of Canada.