Are you a “fuzzy”? Do you like putting all of your pictures through filters like a hip little shit? Do you like acid? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’d probably also enjoy taking the time to listen to some vacuum sounds.
Shoegaze is a musical genre that takes core tenants and instrumentations of rock n’ roll, stretches them like saltwater taffy and passes them through an assembly line of noisy filters and effects that would shame Foxconn. Borrowing much of the distortion and general amplitude from its predecessor, noise pop, and combining it with the droopy, melting song structures of the non-popular dream pop, shoegaze has a knack for making you want to wrap yourself in an Afghan and pass out on a bean bag as you lose track of time while the grinding and whirring reverberates through your impeccably chiseled cheek bones.
That is, until the doorbell rings and it’s the pizza guy and when did you order pizza and wow, you’re pretty high right now. For many shoegaze albums, trying to understand the album on first listen proves impossible. There are simply too many layers to take in at once, and the noise can often end up sounding like just noise. However, much like a Tamagotchi, the more time you spend with an album, the more layers you will unwrap and the more the album will fully impregnate your subconscious.
Let’s run through a few of the more notable shoegaze albums, along with a few of our personal favorites.
My Bloody Valentine “Loveless”
By most critics’ standards (and ours), “Loveless” is shoegaze’s greatest accomplishment. After working for nearly two years in production at a cost that almost bankrupted their label, Kevin Shields and his band of merry machinery cranked out their seminal work that is truly one of a kind. Save the rather innocuous-sounding drum hits on the opening track “Only Shallow,” “Loveless” slathers the listener in a mélange of groaning guitars, echoey drums and washed-out QTPi vocals to create an atmosphere rich in emotion without the saccharine fluff.
While many albums suffer from every-track-sounds-the-same syndrome, you would be hard-pressed to confuse the ego death-inducing space trip of “To Here Knows When” with the earthy crunch of the bass-driven “Sometimes.” And yet, despite these differences, tracks seamlessly blend together like the ingredients of some sort of cosmic burrito.
Key tracks: “To Here Knows When,” “Come In Alone,” “Soon”
Should “A Folding Sieve”
Though most won’t recognize their album art from Billboard lists or freshman dorm rooms, Should’s 1995 “A Folding Sieve” is a favorite of ours and a standout work in the genre. “Sieve” trades the layers of filtered guitars popularized by “Loveless” in favor of a much simpler and rawer sound. Tracks like “Breathe Salt” and “Clean” feature a lone, droning string instrument that spans the entire song, and while the drums echo on, they live in the background rather than overtaking the subtler elements, as many shoegaze albums tend to do.
As a whole, “A Folding Sieve” strips away much of the thick sound that shoegaze is known for while sticking to elements of the noise and fuzz that define the genre.
Key tracks: “Clean,” “Own Two Feet,” “Pop Apology”
The Jesus and Mary Chain “Psychocandy”
Ever seen “Lost in Translation?” Remember that wonderful song about cunnilingus that plays during the final scene? That’s The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey,” and boy does that song rock. “Just Like Honey” encapsulates everything great about The Jesus and Mary Chain’s landmark 1985 album “Psychocandy”: it’s the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” doused in reverb and fuzzed-out guitar feedback. And what’s truly remarkable about “Psychocandy” is how well it works this formula throughout the rest of the album.
Half the songs take 60s pop song structures and add lots and lots of noise, while the other half combine the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” with Beach Boys’ melodies. And every damn song is good. It’s one of the best (and coolest) albums of the past 30 years and it played an enormous role in the development of shoegaze.
Key tracks: “Just Like Honey,” “The Hardest Walk,” “Never Understand,” “Cut Dead”
Slowdive’s best and most important album, “Souvlaki” is dreamy, atmospheric, and soothing. Brian Eno too. Best listened to on a Persian rug during a rainstorm. Good for studying, sleeping and drugs!
Key tracks: “Alison,” “Souvlaki Space Station,” “Machine Gun”
Bands influenced by other shoegaze bands: Deerhunter, M83, Beach House, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, Yo La Tengo, Mazzy Star, Have a Nice Life