Shoegaze has been in a similar position to djent for a little while now. Bear with me here: yes, the two genres sound nothing alike, but both have such a distinct auditory fingerprint that they’ve been fighting to stay alive as bands begin to realize that everything’s just about been done to death with the sound. Of course, this isn’t for want of trying, and what this means is that we end up with albums in both genres that are fine when judged without context, but, unfortunately, don’t really add anything to the genre as a whole.
Such is the case with Secret Shine‘s There Is Only Now. Taken entirely on its own merits, what’s presented here is a shoegaze album with some obvious dreampop leanings that trades rather adequately in these sounds: ethereal vocals, lush guitars, and a sparse rhythm section all work in tandem for a lilting, hypnagogic effect. It’s clear these Bristol natives understand the ingredients necessary for a proper shoegaze release – this release is replete with catchy melodies, layered vocal effects, and simple-yet-effective chord progressions, as well as the oh-so-necessary occasional wall of noise – which makes sense, since they were a lost band in the genre’s first wave (their first record, Untouched, came out in 1993, although afterward they took a hiatus until the mid-aughts). On a purely technical level, taken in a vacuum away from its historical place in the larger world of shoegaze, this is a competent record at its worse, and quite good in more than a few places.
But, again, in the larger context of the genre, There Is Only Now is laden throughout with a feeling of deja vu. There’s nothing present here that doesn’t have the worst kind of “been there, done that” feeling that, unfortunately, plagues a lot of modern shoegaze. Escaping this isn’t impossible, of course, and it doesn’t detract from the record’s initial pull – Secret Shine certainly has a pleasing way of straddling the line between dreampop and shoegaze – but it certainly dulls the enthusiasm one might have for the album and greatly diminishes any desire to return to it after a couple of listens.
Ultimately, an album like There Is Only Now is a perfect encapsulation of where shoegaze is as a genre at the moment: not on the way out, so to speak, but creatively treading water, waiting for that next big innovation to come along and realign everyone’s perspective on the sound. Is there plenty to enjoy on There Is Only Now? Sure, there is, but for everything good the record does, there’s a record from the ’90’s that did it better. Just go listen to those.
. . .
Although There Is Only Now was released back in March through Saint Marie Records, we just found out about it recently. Sorry, folks. You can buy merch and physical copies of the record through the band’s bandcamp page.