Twenty-one years, two months and 29 days: That's how long it's been since My Bloody Valentine's genre-defining magnum opus 'Loveless' hit stores.

Sixty hours: That's how much new music mastermind Kevin Shields and the rest of the Irish quartet reportedly had committed to tape and delivered to Island Records -- in 1999. That was 14 years ago. Who knows how much more was recorded since then?

Forty-six minutes, 37 seconds: That's how long 'm b v,' the long-awaited follow-up to 'Loveless,' runs.

Three hours, seven minutes: That's the length of time between the Facebook post announcing that the new album was available and when we were finally able to download it, thanks to the band's new website crashing under the stress of the sudden demand. But who's counting?

MBV finished mixing and mastering 'm b v' a few days before Christmas 2112 (some reports claim additional material was laid down as recently as last month), but it's not known how far back any of this material goes. Some of it may have been tracked back in 1993, for all we know. It doesn't really matter, does it?

What matters is that My Bloody Valentine have finally unleashed 'm b v' for the world to hear -- and in the process, it should be noted, they accomplished something very few bands can these days: They enticed fans to immediately slap down $16 for a digital copy of an album without blinking an eye. So, was it worth the wait?

What do you think?

Listeners could be forgiven for thinking 'm b v' sounds somewhat like a derivative sequel, at least at first. All the sonic tricks perfected on 'Loveless' are still here: the swirling guitars, the dreamy croons, the vaguely aimless and noncommittal lyrics, the woozy "fluff on the needle" gauze that Shields so lovingly assaulted senses with. The opening track, 'She Found Now,' could easily be mistaken for 'Sometimes' by those of us who don't know 'Loveless' like the backs of our hands.

But it's not the obvious similarities to their past work that make 'm b v' substantial; it's the more subtle differences. You may not pick up on them at first, but after a while they're clear as day. Nowhere within the insular 'Loveless' will you find anything quite like 'Is This and Yes' (five minutes of synth tones held down by a faint tom tumble) or the instrumental 'Nothing Is' (pleasantly surging guitars hot-wired to a tribal, motorik pulse). Or even the Stereolab-like Kraut grooves of 'If I Am.'

It's normally the rare moment when you can imagine the source of the band's otherworldly sounds -- that's part of the fun of seeing them live, and also part of the disappointment -- but entire tracks on 'm b v' stand out for their raw, organic clarity of approach. You can tell Colm O’Coisoig plays the drums live, even if triggers and samples are thrown in sometimes. Shields' acrobatic tone-bending, forever an enigma, suddenly doesn't seem as mysterious. Bilinda Butchers' vocals stick out from Shields' counter-melodies on occasion, and probably for the better.

That's where 'm b v' succeeds: in its limitations. Shields was never going to make a better album than 'Loveless' -- you can't out-perfect perfection -- so he made a different one, a weirder one, a more human one. It's still masterfully assembled, but it sounds like it was done so in a burst of inspiration. Like he spent 20 paralyzed years thinking about topping 'Loveless,' finally realized he never would and gave up, then picked up the remaining pieces and churned out most of the album in one year.

Hopefully, it won't take another two decades to get another one out of him. Don't think we can stand the wait.

9 out of 10 rating

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