If there’s one genre that I can honestly say that I love, it’s shoegazer pop. But then again, that should be a giveaway if you’ve spent anytime browsing the reviews on this site. Although shoegazing really reached its zenith in the mid-90s, it wasn’t until the late 90s that I discovered and fell in love with it. Which just happened to be when the genre was in serious decline, becoming overshadowed by the rise of Oasis and Britpop (despite the fact that Oasis’ early music was shoegazing in nature and that one shoegazing group, The Boo Radleys, was one of the best Britpop groups around).
This comp, though far from comprehensive, focuses on a small slice of time from shoegazing’s heyday, spotlighting some of the genre’s best known acts. However, to my delight, it also spotlights a handful of (to me) lesser-known artists, artists I never had a chance to check out before their records sadly became obscure or out of print.
Of course, mention the word “shoegazing” and several artists readily come to mind, and the comp pays them their dues. Ride contributes “Like A Daydream,” from 1990’s Smile. It’s a bit more uptempo and poppy than the band’s seminal work, which would come surface in the gloriously dreary atmospheres of Nowhere (also released in 1990). Still, it’s a fine display of the group’s reckless energy, and their yearning vocal harmonies — although shoegazing was widely known for utilizing blissful male/female harmonies, Ride used male harmonies to great effect.
In my humble opinion, no shoegazing comp would ever be complete without a track from Slowdive (quite possible the most perfect band to ever grace God’s green earth), and the comp features one of their finest songs. “Catch The Breeze” (taken from the band’s first album, 1991’s Just For A Day) is one of those songs, landmark songs that just change the way you look at music. Even now, almost 10 years after I first heard them, those giant, soaring walls of sound that close out the song still move me.
I’d only heard Pale Saints after Ian Masters left the band, with my first introduction being 1994’s Slow Buildings, which many consider their worst album (though I personally thing it’s pretty solid). “Sea Of Sound” (taken from 1990’s The Comforts Of Madness) captures the band in their early days with a lovely slice of dreamy pop, with silvery, ringing guitars gliding over Masters’ voice.
If you’ve heard one Lush song, you’ve practically heard them all. The group seemed to use the same melodic sense, not to mention guitar effects, on all of their recordings. However, that’s hardly a complaint when the result of that consistency is “De-Luxe,” which showcases the group’s pop rush and the trademark harmonies of Miki Berenjyi and Emma Anderson.
The comp wraps things up with Swervedriver, probably shoegazing’s most “rawk” outfit. While a lot of shoegazer songs are perfect for long drives out on the highway in the midst of grey autumn days, Swervedriver’s music, or at least the Raise album, is better suited for doing 90mph down a desert highway with the cops in hot pursuit. “Rave Down” is a pure adrenaline rush, with turbocharged guitars and thundering drums tearing along at a breakneck pace.
However, while it’s always a joy to hear Ride or Slowdive, the real draw of this comp for me was the chance to finally hear a slew of bands that, up until now, I’d only read about on newsgroups, mailing lists, and the All-Music Guide. Blind Mr Jones’ “Small Caravan” might be the most compelling song on the comp, though I’ll confess that I first mistook it for a Nowhere-era Ride song. Indeed, the song features the same churning, slightly sinister atmospherics lurking about the song’s edge, and the lyrics (“We might find we’re two of a kind/And I’ll never have to pretend/That I’m feeling fine”) express the same sort of alienation and detachment. But once I realized my mistake, I began to appreciate the song more, and it’s one of my faves on the album.
I do own The Telescopes’ latest album, 2001’s Third Wave (which, regrettably, I haven’t given much playtime), my eyes weren’t really opened until I heard “All A Dreams.” Ranking right up there with “Catch The Breeze” as the comp’s most languid track, “All A Dreams” is just that, full of shimmering guitars, hazy atmospherics, and vocals that drift by in the finest shoegazer tradition, all cloud-like and intangible. I think I need to give “Third Wave” a few more spins, if only to see how it compares with this lovely track.
One thing that struck me about this comp is how exuberant many of these bands sound. I’ve often identified shoegazing as a more introspective music, perfect for those times and moods when you want music that’ll embrace you as you brood or pine away for a bit. But many of these tracks positively rock out.
Revolver kicks off the comp with “Heaven Sent An Angel,” which doesn’t wrap you in heavenly sonics so much as get your toes a-tapping and head a-nodding. Of course, the lyrics are pure shoegazer, full of pining and youthful romanticism, but overall, the track almost sounds like prototypical Britpop (which just supports my conspiracy theory that all of the popular British rock of the past 15 years would never have existed if not for this oft-derided genre).
The same holds true for Moose’s “Last Night I Fell Again,” which barrels along right from the start (and makes me wish, oh wish, that some early Boo Radleys had been included). Drop Nineteens’ “Winona” is full of fuzz, with the vocals barely distinguishable from the thick, droney haze of noise that just seems to hang there; only thin slivers of guitar manage to rise above the morass from time to time. And Adorable’s “Sunshine Smile” just piles on the chiming guitars and sappy lyrics (“She’s got a sunshine smile/The kind that makes you forget again”) until the song collapses and turns into yet another pop moment that presages Oasis et al.
I think this energy is attributable to the comp’s focus on shoegazing’s early years, when bands were first discovering this beautiful noise. While many of shoegazing’s greatest moments were considerably more melancholic and obtuse (much of Slowdive’s catalog, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless), this youthful rush of sound is nice to hear.
I’d love to see some label/distributor (Rhino, I’m looking at you) put out a massively comprehensive survey of shoegazing, from its inception to its relegation to the underground by Britpop’s rise, and on to it’s recent resurgence. I’d love to hear the bands on this comp, as well as the likes of The Boo Radleys, Kitchens of Distinction, Catherine Wheel, Chapterhouse, The House of Love, and so many more put in their proper historical place.
But until that blessed day, this comp is a good enough place to start. It can give plenty of young hipsters who’ve discovered Sigur Rós a nice sense of context and history (not to mention a slew of bands they need to check out — hint: start with Slowdive), as well as those of us who’ve been enamored with shoegazer for years a reminder of just why we love this music so much.