An Open Love Letter to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless

It’s hard to believe that My Bloody Valentine’s epochal Loveless debuted 20 years ago today. It’s an unhappy birthday, however. Let’s be honest: There hasn’t been a single album released since Loveless that has been as singular, riveting or identifiable. Disagree? Bring it. Please.

Kevin Shields’ obsessive ingenuity has mythically grown ever since, as those influenced by his sound — Trent Reznor, Radiohead, Mogwai, many, many more — have become the accepted wisdom on rewarding sonic explorations. And while it was swallowed by the stunning procession of albums released in 1991 — the last, best year for musical releases — it has come to outdistance them by light years. (You heard me, Nevermind and Ten.

So I did what any self-respecting early adopter would do and write a history lesson for noobs over at Wired. I called it an open love letter, but what’s the difference? Lovers with no sense of history have no future, after all.

An Open Love Letter to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless

My Bloody Valentine’s 1991 musical masterpiece Loveless struggled for the spotlight when it was released, overshadowed by the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But two decades later, the record’s defiant atmospherics and tremolo experimentation have become more influential than ever.

“When Loveless was released, few touted it as a revolutionary record,” notoriously reclusive singer/guitarist Kevin Shields said in 2004. Yet Loveless remains revolutionary. It’s arguably the most original record of the ’90s, and perhaps even the ’00s.

Few if any albums released since 1991 — an epochal music year, in which everyone from Nirvana and Pearl Jam to Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers released career-making full-lengths — have managed to sound so singularly different from everything else in or out of the mainstream.

That’s because Shields’ infamously detail-oriented production fully paid off on Loveless, which was released 20 years ago Friday.

From its beatnotic drums, buried vocals, swollen noise and sexual tension to its abstract loops and surprisingly danceable trances, the record recombined the sonic tropes of pop, rock and punk and achieved a cultural rarity: An instantly recognizable, impressively unique album with plenty of antecedents — The Beatles, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, among others — but very few peers.

“I just kind of found my own way, and my own feel, my own way of playing,” Shields said of his ax modulations in Mike McGonigal’s book-length analysis of Loveless from 2007. “I found that if there was only one guitar track whilst the vocals were going, split between different amps and mics, the sound was bigger, especially when you use open strings and tunings and the tremolo arm. I didn’t have to consciously think about it; I was able to express this constant feeling of expression. It’s hard to explain the sound of the guitar bending. What you hear is what it is between the sound.”