A good day on the internet is like meeting Keanu Reeves. It seems like such an improbable anomaly that when it actually happens you never forget it. (I have not met Keanu Reeves — I’m speculating here.) Such a day occurred on Feb. 2, 2013 — nearly a decade ago though it feels much longer than that.
What made this day special was a unique combination of old and new internet worlds. On one hand, you had a 20th-century rock band who surprised the world by selling a new album — their first in 22 years! — on their own website, which inevitably crashed from an overwhelming wave of traffic. On the other hand, you had social media platforms that still felt like fun and refreshing forums for irreverent jokes and earnest expressions of enthusiasm. It was before the era of ubiquitous streaming and right after the widespread adoption of Twitter. Precisely the right moment to experience a new record in public with millions of strangers, back when this sort of thing wasn’t yet annoying as hell.
Of course, it helped that the album in question — m b v, only the third full-length LP by the legendary British rock band My Bloody Valentine — was pretty great. Not only was it pretty great, but it was pretty great in spite of all reasonable expectations that it would be a disappointment. My Bloody Valentine had not released new music since the year Barack Obama graduated from law school. An entire generation had been born, schooled, and cleared for legal alcohol consumption in the space of time since their epochal second record, 1991’s Loveless. Over time, that album accrued an almost mystical reputation as a paradigm-shifting masterpiece, a guitar rock record that didn’t sound like any other guitar rock record, no matter the legions of shoegaze bands that formed and flamed out in its wake. And that reputation was emboldened by My Bloody Valentine’s own inability to top or even follow up Loveless. That is, until Feb. 2, 2013.
As the band’s bassist Debbie Googe once put it, “We became seminal for doing nothing.” And now, all of a sudden, here was … something. Some critics melodramatically fretted that the appearance of a new My Bloody Valentine record might actually ruin Loveless. Columns were written about spending one last moment with the seminal LP before ruefully pressing play on the new one. It all seems so quaint now. Obama had just been elected to a second term. This is what worried people at the time.
What we know now in retrospect is that 2013 was a weirdly good year for seemingly moribund acts to return triumphantly with long-delayed comebacks. Just five years earlier, Guns N’ Roses showed just how difficult it is to successfully land a long-gestating musical masterwork when they released Chinese Democracy — an insanely expensive and grandiose epic in the works since the late ’90s — to middling reviews and ho-hum sales. (Though even Chinese Democracy is better than you might think!)
In 2013, however, there were a bunch of anti-Democracies. The month after m b v dropped, David Bowie put out The Next Day, his first record in 10 years, and most people agreed it was awesome. Two months after that, Daft Punk returned with Random Access Memories, their first release in eight years, and that became the year’s most hyped record. Boards Of Canada also re-emerged from an eight-year break with their fourth record, Tomorrow’s Harvest, and the people who care about Boards Of Canada seemed dig it. Eight years between albums was nothing now! Even Neutral Milk Hotel — perhaps the only indie band more famous than My Bloody Valentine for disappearing after a classic record — reunited for a tour that year.
The tone was set in 2012, when Fiona Apple put out her fourth album, The Idler Wheel …, to rave reviews after a seven-year break. (She then waited another eight years to put out Fetch The Bolt Cutters. She’s the Halley’s Comet of modern singer-songwriters) Then, in 2014, D’Angelo silenced critics who assumed he would never follow up 2000’s Voodoo when he released Black Messiah, a record he reportedly tinkered with for a dozen years and pulled off flawlessly.
Somehow, the flattening of time that occurs online had carried over to real life. All of the reclusive faves you spent years and even decades obsessing over were now back and better than ever, almost like they never left. And on Feb. 2, 2013, it made going online to listen to and talk about music heartwarming for a change.
Of all those albums, m b v is the best and also the least likely in advance to be the best. For years, stories about My Bloody Valentine’s mercurial mastermind Kevin Shields painted him as a semi-tragic Syd Barrett figure, a genius who had lost his grip on the mechanics of translating visionary ideas into actual songs. In the mid-’90s, his goal was to write music without a beginning, middle, and end. “I was trying to pull myself away from the part of my brain that makes things linear and toward something more impressionistic,” he later explained. It was an esoteric concept destined to inspire writer’s block, and it slowed down the making of m b v to a crawl.
Meanwhile, the members of My Bloody Valentine were still living together in a band house. Inside those walls they created a different reality divorced from the outside world, all while not creating much in the way of music. “We were essentially all mental,” said Googe, who left in 1997 along with drummer Colm Ó Cíosóig. Singer-guitarist Bilinda Butcher soon followed, effectively ending the band.
The early seeds of m b v lay dormant until nine years later, when Shields revisited the tapes and found they were better than he remembered. Some songs elaborated on the blurred-out rock of Loveless, while others showcased his interest in ’90s electronic subgenres like drum and bass and U.K. jungle. My Bloody Valentine’s reunion in 2008 gave the project some extra momentum, and work continued on older material as well as new songs like m b v‘s gorgeously murky opener, “She Found Now.”
Upon the album’s release, many fans and critics observed that m b v felt like it could have come out a year or two after Loveless. Shields naturally resisted this — as would anyone who spent roughly 40 percent of their lives pondering the same 47-minute collection of music. But it is true that much of m b v elaborates on the sound of Loveless in a manner unlike a typical “legacy band revisits their classic style” album. There are three elements that define Loveless — crunchy melody, dreamy vibes, and abstract noise — and they are swirled together into a mass of sound. But on m b v, they are separated into distinct movements. The opening “crunchy melody” section of the record sounds the most like Loveless, almost as if Shields is eager to reassure loyal listeners that he’s here to deliver the goods with relatively straightforward shoegaze numbers like “Only Tomorrow” and “Who Sees You.” Next comes the middle “dreamy vibes” portion dominated by Butcher, which includes the poppiest track, “New You.” Then it’s the “abstract noise” closing act featuring some of the most exhilarating (“In Another Way”) and bludgeoning (“Nothing Is”) music in My Bloody Valentine’s canon.
Listening to that final third in 2013, I couldn’t help but feel wistful about a scenario in which m b v dropped in 1999 and wound up influencing the next generation of guitar bands. (It’s hard to believe “In Another Way” didn’t inform Radiohead’s work on Kid A — maybe Thom and Jonny secretly raided Shields’ vaults.) What’s apparent now is how far beyond the trappings of shoegaze — which remains a common go-to reference point for young indie bands — My Bloody Valentine had ventured by the time of m b v. No matter his apparent madness, Shields intuitive methods were clearly those of a natural born artist who was never going to be content with merely with using a phalanx of pedals to make cool whooshing sounds with his Fender guitar. This was loud and violent music that paradoxically evoked stillness and even quiet, blowing out your mind so that all other thoughts are cleared away and you are finally living in the moment. That’s the irony of this long-delayed record — it sounds eternally present.
Not long after m b v came into the world, it seemed to leave again. As paying for individual MP3s gave way to purchasing subscriptions for access to streaming libraries, My Bloody Valentine’s entire catalog became difficult for the average listener to access. It wasn’t until Shields’ nieces and nephews complained that his music was “purposely obscure” that it occurred to him to get MBV on those new platforms. “There’s a whole world out there I know nothing about,” he told the New York Times in 2021.
In that interview, he claimed that there are two new My Bloody Valentine albums in the works — one “warm and melodic,” and the other experimental. When pressed for more details, he explained that “I don’t want to give too much away because I could lay it out verbally, and then someone’s going to go, ‘That’s a really good idea.’” From a normal rock star, this would seem paranoid and perhaps megalomaniacal. From Shields, it was kind of justified.
Nearly two years later neither record has seen the light of day. Nor did Shields ever put out the EP of new songs he promised in a Pitchfork interview after the release of m b v. None of this is surprising. “Patience is a virtue in this band,” Butcher told the Times, noting that in the space between Loveless and m b v she “had two more children and did a lot of flamenco dancing.” Perhaps this is a side effect of music that puts you squarely in the moment — there’s little opportunity to plan for a prompt, coherent future. Nevertheless, I have faith that My Bloody Valentine has one more actually good day on the internet left to give.