Scene Spotlight: Shoegaze (Part 3)

School of Seven Bells – Half Asleep

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



Despite resistance to the style in its infancy, shoegaze has proven surprisingly influential, durable and adaptable. (An analogy to Impressionism – also originally a mocking term coined by a curmudgeonly critic – could probably be made).

Here are some modern(ish) descendants; these bands either play straight-up shoegaze, or incorporate elements of it into their sound.

Up top: If School of Seven Bells never made another song after the bejeweled, serpentine “Half Asleep” – with its swooping, swooning Cocteau Twins melody, and drums starbursting behind your eyes on the chorus – well, one song like this is enough.* I don’t know if my heart could’ve taken any more. It makes me happy and sad all at once. One of my absolute-favorite tracks of the last decade. Play it again, then again; if you’re not in love by the third time, I’ll never understand you.

Asobi Seksu – Never Understand (JAMC cover)

Speaking of the JAMC, they called, and they want their black leather jackets back:

Raveonettes – Attack of the Ghost Riders

Black Rebel Motorcyle Club – White Palms

What’s interesting to me about “White Palms” (other than that lumbering, incantatory groove) is that the JAMC would have played those lyrics for blasphemy and shock value. But I don’t get that sense from this song. I think there is a genuine religious longing; a prodigal narrator both pleading/begging/daring Jesus to come back (the narrator’ll say anything to get His attention), and simultaneously terrified that Jesus WILL come back, and see the mess the narrator’s in (that heartbreaking little coda, “I wouldn’t come back, if I’d’a been Jesus / I’m the kinda guy who leaves the scene of a crime”).


Good bands, bad bandnames:

Ringo Deathstarr – Two Girls

This track is VERY Slowdive:

Drone Dimension – Daydream Delay

Whereas this band is the most ridiculously MBV-ish:

Fleeting Joys – Lovely Crawl

This type of music is often meant to evoke altered mental or emotional states, and affect the listener’s perception of time – some shoegaze seemingly moves in slow motion, or is obsessively, repetitively focused around a simple hook(s). This is not country, or folk, or hip-hop – it’s rarely political, and it usually doesn’t tell complete stories. If the music is often maximalist, the lyrics can be minimalist and fragmentary…

Lassie Foundation – El Rey

…”El Rey”‘s chorus – a simple repetition of the phrase “Here she comes (walking right at you)” – is an excellent example of all this; it recalls the intoxication of young love, distilled into one single frame; the capture of a single, unforgettable moment; the precise second when the world stops being what it was, and you can glimpse something else.

Good bandname, though I am iffier on the band:

A Place to Bury Strangers – Don’t Think Lover

That photo of twisted metal, nicely suits that rending sound in the “chorus”:

Was that a little much? Here, clear your palate with this lovely little ambient number:

Mahogany – Red Marrow, His Sorrow

Now that you’re relaxed, here’s one of my favorite noisier tracks from recent years.

That oscillating sound gets me GOING. Better than coffee in the AM:

Weekend – Coma Summer

Bringing it back down (how many movie tributes are in here?):

Beach House – Lazuli

Beach House – Alien

And back up (this song gets stuck in my head something awful awesome, and I like that this video seems to hurtle forward at the same speed as the song):

Deerhunter – Vox Celeste

And back down:

Tamaryn – I’m Gone

Daughter – How

And back up:

The Fauns – Seven Hours

Yo La Tengo bring the ‘gaze when they feel like it:

Yo La Tengo – From A Motel 6

But all it ever got them was a compulsory trip to The Academy of Rock, and an eye-opening “Intro to Rush” course taught by Professor Bob Odenkirk:

Yo La Tengo – Sugarcube

(See also: “Deeper Into Movies”; “Decora”; “Blue Line Swinger”; etc.)

The style has been absorbed by musicians approaching from the metal side:

Boris – Farewell

Jesu – Silver

We’ll end our shoegaze series where it began, in Scotland.

(As I’ve noted before, many of the originators and luminaries of this style of music are Scots or Irish; and what traditional instrument do we associate with Scots-Irish?

Yep – the droooooooooooonnnnne of bagpipes!)

Mogwai usually get tagged as instrumental/post-rock, but that trembling, massive wall of guitar owes more than a bit to shoegaze:

Mogwai – Helicon 1

EPIC…and not just the brogue:

The Twilight Sad – And She Would Darken The Memory

* In 2013, School of Seven Bells’ guitarist Benjamin Curtis (also of the Secret Machines and Tripping Daisy) died of cancer. He was 35.

Here are a couple more tracks I like by SVIIB (check the guy in the background at 3:18 in the second video).

RIP Benjamin.