“Shoegaze”, like the name suggests, was born from an idea that people stare at the ground while playing this glorious wall-of-noise seeded in punk while exploring electronics and ambience, and incorporating breathy vocals and tear-jerking melody. Find a list of 10 of the best Shoegaze records – courtesy of Discogs – but you can find Shoegaze in abundance here at eil.com
Before I even begin to construct this list of musical monuments, let me just state that the genre of “shoegaze” is a tricky bastard. It’s an institution held close to many hearts, including my own, and there are so many other influences that flit in and out of the heart and soul of the genre that I’m bound to leave something out. Choosing ten albums from this kernel of musical history is a task I hardly want to accept, but trudge forth I will.
“Shoegaze”, like the name suggests, was born from an idea that people stare at the ground while playing this glorious wall-of-noise seeded in punk while exploring electronics and ambience, and incorporating breathy vocals and tear-jerking melody. On paper, this is “shoegaze”. We all know it to be the definition-defying transcendent experience it is: experimentation while remaining firmly planted in some parallel rock world exploring any mood that seems to fit in, be it from a drum machine, a vocal, or a fuzz pedal. A lot of elements have to come together perfectly to make it sound right, but when they do, it’s like no other sound out there.
Part of the magic of “shoegaze” music is experiencing it live. It’s typically loud as fuck (those of you who have seen My Bloody Valentine will know what I’m talking about), and that wall of sound guitar sheen is impenetrable to the point where most listeners physically cannot take a step forward toward the speakers without feeling the urge to lose their lunch. Ear plugs aren’t required, but you’d be smart to invest in them. My first live “shoegaze” concert was in 1992 when Slowdive opened for Ride. Looking back on it now it’s kind of crazy to think of these two bands playing together as they’ve both achieved legendary status, but back then it was just a few indie bands from Britain coming to town to showcase their amazing gazing abilities. They may have shyly stared at the ground for the entire show, but all I can remember about the sound is that they rocked the house to the very foundations. I’ve seen straight-up rock shows that didn’t rock this hard. The recorded albums obviously have a hard edge to them, but they definitely have the more drifting, ambient periods as well, but live? It’s all about in-your-face noise. Ride is reforming this month for a tour to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their classic “Nowhere” album, and I highly recommend checking this out. These albums have a life of their own on recorded formats, but once seen live, they enter your headspace in an entirely different fashion. It’s about the personalities and headspace of the performers on stage, and regardless of where they’re gazing, the notes that flutter from their instruments create an entire genre that only continues to gather more fans each passing year.
There will be bands left out, and I’m sure some of you will argue the validity of some these inclusions even being considered “shoegaze”. Any way you cut it, though, these albums are perfect in their own quirky way, more than justifying a purchase by each and every music lover out there.
Also, an honorable mention to Spiritualized. I do love them so, but are they “shoegaze”? I don’t think so, but maybe some of you disagree — may the debate begin!
This album is a good example of the shoegaze sound as we know it: jangly guitars, sparkly production, smooth vocals, and sharp songwriting. Released right at the beginning of entire “grunge” explosion, it was still not deterred by the explosion of that Seattle scene. “Whirlpool” spent weeks in the charts on both sides of the pond, and is still a great example of some of the most accessible shoegaze rock ever released. Chapterhouse followed this with an equally brilliant, and more electronic, album “Blood Music” a few years later, then never released another album. Even in spite of their small output, they left an indelible impression.
Like Chapterhouse before them, Lush was able to take the gazer sound and make it more palatable for massive audiences. Their hooks were irresistible, and they championed an interest in electronic music by bringing in remixers like Spooky and Drum Club which helped the genre branch out and realize its fullest potential in other musical worlds. It’s albums like this that inspired later electronic artists like Ulrich Schnauss to marry more traditional organic elements of instrumentation with newer technological advancements. In the meantime, “Spooky” just flat out rocked!
Go ahead and flip a coin, because that’s the only way you’re going to show any fairness in including just one Catherine Wheel album in a shoegaze list. I initially felt “Ferment” deserved to be here more, but after additional consternation, “Chrome” is a better representation of the gazer aesthetic. SingerRob Dickinson (cousin of Iron Maiden‘s Bruce Dickinson) possessed perhaps the coolest voice of all time and only served to sublimely compliment the brilliant guitar work and moods of the albums. Take track “Fripp” for example, which is one of the finest shoegaze songs ever: beginning at a quiet crawl and gently stirred by Dickinson’s croak until it builds into a melodic tornado of sound and emotion. “Too much is not enough” he yelled into the microphone, and we all agreed wholeheartedly.
Like Catherine Wheel, it’s tough to just include one album from this group, but this has gotta be the one. Released on Creation Records (as many great shoegaze albums were), Swervedriver had taken all the things they had learned from their first album “Raise” and refined their approach while extending the jams. What makes this album work a little better is the complete encapsulation you feel while listening to it, particularly on tracks like “Duress” which is eight minutes of psychedelia and guitar fuzz that still manages to end all too soon.
Never known to be shy, Richard Ashcroft later became the big-mouthed and arrogant band-ruiner he was, but before all that beamed “A Storm In Heaven”. More content to focus on the quiet subtleties, this album is significant in the pantheon of shoegaze because it made the decision to be more introspective and mellow about things instead of partaking in the flamboyancy of their later output. It’s a grand exercise in restraint from start to finish, much like a perfectly executed underplayed acting performance in that it proves there is just as much power in the quietudes if you let it evolve. Verve exercised this even more so on their singles where some of these songs were extended beyond ten minutes and allowed an even more intense experience.
Yep, I’m choosing this album. Their most popular, accessible, and visible album ever. It also happens to be their best. Where their earlier output might fall into the “goth” category somewhat, and their later output filters into the “holy shit, this ain’t so good” file, “Heaven Or Las Vegas” hit all the right points without a single duff moment on it. One of the most impeccably-produced albums in the genre, it drifts from one track to the next with no effort, and before you know it, 40 minutes of pure sublimity has expired. Albums in any genre don’t get much better than this.
JAMC were shoegaze before shoegaze was even shoegaze — that’s how damn shoegaze they are. This band basically invented staring down at the ground, looking annoyed with the very idea you would want to see them play, doing everything in their power to make sure zero eye-contact was made. Fortunately, they also came up with some of the most unique sounding music ever produced. Through a haze of feedback and guitar squeals, “Psychocandy” was able to take the ethics of punk and twist it into something new in an age when “new wave” was taking over the charts. It’s influence has remained over the years, and continues to be an inspiration for sad moping bastards everywhere, not to mention anyone with a keen ear for brilliant music.
(3) My Bloody Valentine – “Loveless“
You knew this was coming. Sure, their earlier albums were marvels of the new guard, but “Loveless” is when shit got real. Another Creation Records release, Kevin Shields utilized an obsessive ear for detail that employed loops and backward-sounding guitars that made even the most sober of listeners feel like they were entering into a mindfuck timewarp (or is that a mindwarp timefuck?). This album is on a level all its own, and will forever remain planted at the top of all-time classics because of its sonic audacity, and brutal originality.
(2) Slowdive – “Souvlaki“
It’s hard to think of many albums in the genre that delivered more than this one. Peerless in execution, “Souvlaki” managed to corral the jangled guitars and project them through an ambience not many other albums have ever been able to equal. The elements of rhythm, rock, electronics, and harmony combine to make the melodies even more endearing and lasting than the artists themselves probably thought possible. This was one of those moments where lovers of any genre could come together and appreciate a musical experience without the hassles of labels or pigeon-holing. “Souvlaki” sparkled and twinkled like nothing else before it, and 20-odd years after its release it sounds like it could have come out just yesterday.
(1) Ride – “Nowhere“
The cover for this album is appropriate in a very vague way: crashing, meandering waves rolling on into infinity, forever changing and morphing into new possibilities — a great segue-way for “Nowhere” all things considered. “Nowhere” is an album that wasn’t quite accepted in a broad way upon its release, however in 2015, it’s heralded as one of the greatest ever. This is usually the sign of the public just not being ready for the advances they had heard at the time, and with a new remaster of “Nowhere” coming this month, it’s proof positive that this record has ingrained itself into the very fabric of the way rock music is heard. Each and every sound on the album is perfectly placed and pitched, every nuance and detail hidden away until repeated listens expose its importance. It’s a record that demands repeat plays, and even after the 20th listen, something births itself giving the album an entirely new meaning. Shifting, changing color, and reappearing for the ages, “Nowhere” stands as one of the great testaments of ageless music.