Scene Spotlight: Shoegaze (Part 2)

Slowdive – When the Sun Hits

Part 2 of 3; Part 1 may be found here.

THESE POSTS ARE MEANT TO BE PLAYED LOUD.

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In Part II of our shoegaze tour, we’ll start with Slowdive – a band from the heyday of shoegaze that I felt didn’t always get the respect it deserved at the time (they were second only to MBV in my personal pantheon) but whose rep only continued to rise with the passing years and has now reformed and released a very good record in 2017; then take a trip down some shoegaze side streets.

Slowdive – Shine

After the ambient/post-rock of the lovely Pygmalion got them dropped from Creation and looked like the death of the band, Slowdive’s Neil Halstead went on to make dreamy, country-ish folk/rock, frequently still collaborating with some of his former Slowdive bandmates.

In this solo performance, he dusts off some of his old Slowdive tunes, stripping them down to reveal the melodic melancholy underneath:

Neil Halstead – Alison etc. live

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Before Richard Ashcroft turned into a Britpop star, gave the Rolling Stones all his money, and made people reconsider whether Mick Jagger WAS in fact conventionally-handsome (if only by comparison), The Verve were considered part of the shoegaze scene (though instead of densely stacking their guitars, they favored a sort of Pink Floyd-ish trippy space-rock vibe).

Their debut LP, A Storm In Heaven, is a minor classic of the genre:

Verve – Slide Away

Verve – Beautiful Mind

Speaking of your classic rock, a bit of trivia: the lead singer of this next band is the cousin of Bruce Dickinson, of Iron Maiden fame. And yes, that’s Tanya Donnelly there.

Catherine Wheel – Judy Staring At the Sun

It really tickles me the way he enunciates the chorus so delicately and clearly. I sing this at least once a month. Usually in traffic:

Catherine Wheel – Eat My Dust You Insensitive F**k

(Yes, yes, I know that particular Floyd-y/bluesy track isn’t very “shoegaze” – but it’s great, plus anyway their other videos are TERRIBLE, and don’t have an inexplicable homage to Depeche Mode, nor Summer Phoenix rolling around in the sand for some reason.)

Sticking with a automotive theme for a moment, Swervedriver were another weird fit in the shoegaze scene; they had guitar effects to spare, but they were less “dreamy” and more driving (GEDDIT?)

I think the sudden tempo shift at 3:00 remains thrilling (and sounds a lot like Dinosaur Jr. or Sonic Youth):

Swervedriver – Rave Down

They wrote hard rock songs about cars, and obviously remembered who the Stooges were:

Swervedriver – Son of Mustang Ford

Their best songs know when to ease off, and when to lay the pedal flat:

Swervedriver – Duel (edit)

They just SOUND like powerful, well-tuned motors, and sheer humming speed:

Swervedriver – Never Lose That Feeling

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Shoegaze can be gear-heavy. Some of the classics of the genre were recorded with many expensive guitars, pedals, and hours and hours of studio time and production/mixing work. (MBV’s Loveless took 2 years, 19 studios and purportedly nearly bankrupted their label, Creation Records, who dropped them due to the expenses; it took mega-sales from Oasis’ debut, to put Creation back in the black).

Just imagine the egg on all their faces when someone finally realized you can achieve some similar effects by overloading cheap 4-track home recording equipment.

These bands did MBV on a GBV budget:

Flying Saucer Attack – Soaring High

Astrobrite – Crasher

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Early Stereolab (from London) drew on shoegaze, mixed with krautrock, lounge music, French pop; basically anything that would sound good on the hi-fi in your space-age bachelor pad:

Stereolab – Peng! 33

Stereolab – Jenny Ondioline (live)

In Part I, I mentioned Hüsker Dü; their penchant for burying pop melody and introspection in ear-splitting volume and feedback was a key influence on the shoegaze scene.

When Bob Mould returned in 1992 with his new power trio Sugar, he drew in turn on the bands he’d influenced.

“BUT GLYPH!”, I hear you say, “you’re telling me Sugar, is shoegaze? Preposterous!”

Well, probably not quite shoegaze; Mould’s songs are generally more sharp and pointed, than soft and gauzy.

But the lyrics to “Gift” (“I received this gift from you…And now I give this gift to you”) seem like a clear admission that he is fully aware that it is basically a squalling MBV riff he’s playing here:

Sugar – Gift

In “Your Favorite Thing”, he actually blatantly nicks a lyric and a bit of the melody from MBV’s “Blown A Wish”:

Sugar – Your Favorite Thing

This is as vertigo-inducing as anything MBV ever did, even if it achieves the effect mostly through dizzying velocity:

Sugar – Tilted

This is the closing track from Sugar’s debut; a lullaby of a melody + mile-high guitars sure SOUNDS a lot like shoegaze, and check that shimmery, smeary artwork (that the band was signed in the UK to Creation Records, one of the key shoegaze labels, was certainly no coincidence):

Sugar – Man on the Moon

Part 3 next week! We’ll get to some more modern variants.