Today is a special day, as we take a break from the sheer, heavy, grim nature of metal to detail a much more relaxed, dreamy genre: shoegaze. To do so, it seems appropriate to walk through, somewhat chronologically, the releases that truly defined shoegaze, as well as new releases that are today helping to define and shape the genre. It is a genre that is inexplicably hard to pin down, with the only ingredients many bands share being an intensive love for reverb and whispered vocals. Shoegaze now spreads its grasp everywhere from its post punk/dream pop origins to pop punk (sadly) to black metal (not so sadly). Its influence on much modern underground music is undeniable, and its growth in popularity and use is refreshing and invigorating, especially to those who are involved in the FX pedals industry who are now reaping the rewards of the intense love for reverb and echo effects. Now that I have made a few bad jokes and wrote a brief intro, it is time to dive into the wonderful world of Shoegaze and be truly blissful.
This album may just be the most important album on this entire list, if it were not for the album that will rest in the number two spot. At the time of its release, few bands were so widely utilizing effects pedals as (now) Post Punk/”Proto Gaze” legends, The Jesus And Mary Chain, were. This album is everything that a good shoegaze record should strive to be: loud, fuzzed out, and somewhat aggressive, lulling you into feeling as if you’re in a dream like state, but perhaps a dream induced by panic as you’re overwhelmed by the walls of noise squealing forth from the guitars. It is easy to see on Psychocandy the beginnings of shoegaze, on which My Bloody Valentine would later pick up and, subsequently, perfect, as the listener is overpowered with thick walls of noise while the vocals remain buried somewhat deeply into the mix, giving them an almost ethereal feeling.
Released November 4th, 1991 after a series of questionable EP’s (some good dream pop material on those EP’s, the other stuff, not so much), My Bloody Valentine dropped the genre defining, alternative-rock shaping masterpiece that would forever cement itself in every Pitchfork-wannabe music critic’s wet dreams. When asked what he wanted out of the album, guitarist and song writer Kevin Shields responded that he wanted it to be a more “aggressive” take on the dream pop sound of bands such as Cocteau Twins, “expanding infinitely” and allowing the listener to always pick up on a new element with every repeated listen. While the second goal may sound overly ambitious to most, it is absolutely achieved, making Loveless one of the most mindbogglingly complex and beautiful albums to ever exist. It is dreamy and lush, trapping the listener in soundscapes that expand endlessly, allowing them to get lost, while still also keeping them engaged and interested through a somewhat heavy handed attack. Loveless is the pinnacle of Shoegaze, and is often held in the highest position among the “big three” shoegaze albums (the other two being Ride – Nowhere and Slowdive – Souvlaki). Admittingly, Loveless is not an easy album to grasp and may take a few listens to fully click. However, I implore you to continue listening until it does, as, once the pieces fall into place, it is an experience like no other.
Alcest is a band that, within the metal community, should need no introduction. Around roughly the same time as Deafheaven began launching from relative obscurity into the spotlight of music community, Alcest was doing a similar thing, with a similar sound, across the ocean in France. The band blends black metal and shoegaze into a sound that is both comforting and haunting. They pushed not only the envelope of what black metal was allowed to be, but shoegaze as well, helping to spark a new found interest in a genre that had more than comfortably remained underground even in the eyes of underground music for years. They’re undeniably important as such and deserve your immediate attention if you have not given them a listen before.
For me, it would be almost completely criminal to leave out the absolute, undeniable gods of dream pop tinged shoegaze, Asobi Seksu. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, this band has everything you could possibly want in a shoegaze/dream pop band. Bright, spacious atmospheres that you can easily drift off in filled with enough sharp, dramatic musical turns to hold your attention constantly. Add to that some truly incredible synth lines and some of my favorite vocals in the entire genre (sometimes sung in Japanese), and you have Asobi Seksu. While I recommend Fluorescence here because it has two of my favorite tracks by the band (“Leave the Drummer Out There” and “Perfectly Crystal”), I also recommend you check out their absolutely gorgeous, enchanting 2006 record Citrus, as it is one of the key records for sparking my interest in shoegaze as well as one that I revisit a little more than frequently.
Do you ever say to yourself “Gee, I sure do wish there was a band that was equal parts Ride and Dinosaur Jr.”? Well then, there is some good news, as Yuck is that band! Coming from England, the ancestral home of shoegaze, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Yuck is one of the best new shoegaze bands in the past five years, borrowing from many different bands to make a sound all their own and completely mesmerizing. Yuck is adept not only at dreamy, lush shoegaze soundscapes, but also shows the incredible ability to create noise rock lead parts that provide an easily attainable pop ear worm amidst the spaced out reverb. This band comes highly recommended, and it is also recommended that you follow up with their 2013 release, “Glow And Behold”, after becoming hooked on this one.
Cheatahs – Cheatahs
Catherine Wheel – Ferment
Chapterhouse – Whirlpool
Ringo Deathstarr – Color Trip
Anne – Dream Punx
Seasurfer – Dive In
No Joy – Wait To Pleasure