My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
When My Bloody Valentine's Loveless arrived in late 1991, it was shockingly fresh, an overwhelming, densely beautiful record that seemed to bear almost no relation to anything that had come before it. Within months, baby bands started springing up that had clearly been inspired by Loveless to make music along the same lines; MBV's torrential live performances only added to their legend, and so did the recorded silence that followed the album (punctuated only by a few superb remixes that bandleader Kevin Shields has done for bands like Mogwai and Primal Scream, and a cover of Louis Armstrong's "We Have All the Time in the World"). When the band returned to performing in 2008, they repeated their Loveless-era set, underscoring the idea that their watershed album was a unique artifact.
In fact, Loveless was the convergence of a bunch of streams of music: the raw, frothing torrents of late-'80s and early-'90s underground rock, the cult of massive noise that had developed in composition circles, the will to push the guitar into new realms of expressiveness that came from hermetic folkies as much as rock 'n' roll showboaters, the ongoing revolution in electronic dance music (and the way other rock groups were trying to figure out how to integrate its innovations), and the early-'70s German bands who had replaced the familiar forms of pop songs with hypnotic drones and rhythms, among others. Its roots go all the way back to the earliest experiments by musicians and composers who found that studios and recording tape made it possible to come up with sounds no instrument had ever made before.
The sound of Loveless is so massive and impressive that it can be hard to notice the songs beneath it, as distinctive as they'd be on their own: the jet-engine tone of Shields' guitar all but obliterates his and Bilinda Butcher's voices at times. The longer you listen to the album, though, the easier it is to notice the component parts of its barrage, and to hear echoes of musical history in them.