19 Jun 2015

Shoegaze - 6 essential albums

OK so if one movement in music's history is easy to poke fun at, it's the shoegaze of the early nineties. Ha ha ha ha, shoegazrs ha ha ha, etc.

But whilst I get that, no really I do (I'm a part of the banned from shoegaze, nu-gaze and dream-pop group), I find it so overwhelming how much great music came about from that period in time. In fact, this sorta period was among the most creative n the history of music. You had yr Rides and yr Slowdives being really fucking great over here, but at the same time, Pixies, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, and eventually Nirvana were releasing great music, so it's hard to ignore just how great a period this was for alternative music. Maybe I should quickly explain what shoegaze actually is; it's not quite, as lots of people would have you believe, a set in stone thing, it's kind of just a tag for a lot of noisy, reverb-drenched alternative rock, that can be slapped loosely on a lot of music. Although genre-police type militants will tell you time and time again 'THIS IS NOT SHOEGAZE!!!11!!1!' you've just gotta put things into perspective, and use the genre tag for it's main positive use; to help you find out more music you love, that sounds like other music you love.

About a week ago, one of our new posters Elliott put up a top 6 essential Elephant 6 Collective albums (nah seriously read it, it's brilliant) and it seemed like a really good format to make like a thing that we do, so I thought I'd pick my six most essential shoegaze albums so you can get as enthused about the genre as a number of certain shoegazrs.

6. GALAXIE 500 - On Fire (1989)
Is this actually shoegaze? What exactly is shoegaze? Who cares?! This is a really wonderful record that came out at the same time as all the British shoegaze bands, and although it has a distinctly messy arrangement, it has a really dreamy guitar sound that bands like DIIV and Sunflower Bean are dredging up now - and let's be honest, you there, tutting because this isn't actually shoegaze, but it's in a shoegaze post, you should probably share a rose petal-laden, candle-lit bath with a toaster, to mellow you the fuck out. This is a really beautiful record, and the singer has a beautiful little vulnerable voice; on Blue Thunder, it's beautifully forlorn, on Strange where he raises it, it sounds wonderfully impassioned, and for the rest of the album it falls somewhere in between. Ultimately, this is the sound of a warm-ish autumn night, and it's one of the best indie albums the nineites (and 1989) produced, period.

5. MY BLOODY VALENTINE - Loveless (1991)
This is an absolute certainty, in any list of this type, and I guess maybe it begs the question of 'why isn't it number one?' more than 'why is it here in the first place?' I guess the answer lies in the fact it's a personal list of favourites, more than anything. I mean, it's not even my favourite MBV album (that honour would go to m b v), so I'd really struggle to be happy to put it at #1. I think bar the four standouts, Only Shallow, When You Sleep, Sometimes and Soon, the most of the rest are shapeless songs, with instrumentation that really all just merges into one. Sure, for lots of people that's a plus, but I prefer the songs when they turn up on Loom: Live in Vancouver, where they sound more like brutish, bassline driven rock songs, that sound slightly warped, rather than ethereal pop songs. Sure, I can't fault it as a record, but the way it's produced stops me from really, really getting behind this. Still, you'll be blown away when you first hear it, and some of the songwriting and guitar sounds are genuinely perfect, but yeah - not my favourite.

4. THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE - Methodrone (1995)
Is this shoegaze? Who cares! I've always thought there was a real Ride influence behind this, and the fact that when I spoke to Mark Gardener, he told anecdotes all about Anton and the gang being at Ride's first San-Fran shows, back in the early 1990's. Methodrone is the BJM's second of many, many great albums, and although it's 70 minutes long, there are some absolute gems of the genre on here. That Girl Suicide is potentially my favourite BJM song, with it's reverbed-up guitar, and it's garagey arrangement, whilst bits of it have a straight out Spacemen 3 drone to it. This is the kind of album you can really lose yourself to, whilst it still has quite a clear DIY ethic to it, I guess. It's not my favourite Jonestown album - that honour would go either to Aufheben, Take It From The Man, or Strung Out In Heaven - but it's definitely up there.

3. SLOWDIVE - Souvlaki (1993)
Hey! I recently got really emotional over a documentary about the making of this album. It's basically made by a band of people, and of these was a breaking up couple; hence the fact this is literally the ultimate break up album. It's full of thin textures, beautifully melodic Neil Halstead vocals, and Rachel Goswell's heavenly voice. It's most famous for the single/lead EP track Alison, which is one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written, and whilst critics at the time said 'they'd rather drown in a bath of porridge' than listen to Souvlaki again, if yr like me then you could happily drown in a bath of Slowdive and never listen anything else ever again. Souvlaki Space Station is a floating, astral voyage of the most wonderful sonic order, and When The Sun Hits is seriously the most powerful song you'll ever hear, with it's huge chorus-type bits. Machine Gun, 40 Days, and Sing make up a streak of brilliant, atmospheric pop songs, and well, Dagger is like peering into the soul of someone who has lost all hope - it's probably the most depressing song on the list, but it's superbly written, and really a very resonant end to Souvlaki. Although the 3 songs I've not namechecked are understated, they too work themselves seamlessly into this brilliant, brilliant album, that deserves to be celebrated forever and ever.

2. MEDICINE - Shot Forth Self Living (1992)
Brad Laner was a guy that did a lot of stuff for the American underground music scene throughout the eighties, and in the first years of the 90's, he formed a band called Medicine, who, like Slowdive, Ride and MBV are back to life in the 2010's. Shot Forth Self Living is their debut, and it's pretty much the ultimate US shoegaze record, which is cool, because whilst the US leads the shoegaze revival in terms of new bands, there wasn't a lot in the way of 'gazers in the nineties. This is an incredibly noisy record, and it's incredibly ambitious; you put it on and you're greeted by a screeching drone of feedback that MBV or Swervedriver would probably only be able to conjure in their wildest dreams, and then some Mary Chain bass rumbling. This continues for 9 minutes of Laner bringing all the dinner in the world with his effects pedals, The rest of the record, with songs like A Short and Happy Life, and 5ive, has melodic moments, because of Beth Thompson's luscious voice, but even then they still bring the noise. It's not exactly a cohesive release, but I actually really love every single song on this 9 song release; it's very experimental, and yeah, it doesn't flow like Loveless or Souvlaki, but the songs really go on, and really, this is a bit of a masterpiece.

1. RIDE - Nowhere (1990)
WHAT ELSE COULD IT BE? This is the first album by Ride, who are my absolute favourite band, and because I don't make this statement lightly, it could well be my favourite album ever released. And I don't say that lightly. A tidal wave of sound the size of the one from the book of waves, which adorns the cover, hits you about 20 seconds into Seagull, smashing the listener into a whirlpooly void of intense noise. From there, Kaleidoscope is a three minute pop song, a la Revolver with reverb, and then followed by the beautifully forlorn ballad that is In A Different Place, which is so gorgeous that even Jeff Buckley can only sing it as well as Mark. These, however perfect, are bettered by what the album's last 5 songs have to offer. Decay is a favourite, because it's essentially a bass-driven punk song, given the glossy Ride softness to stop it getting too visceral, although despite this, it's probably my least favourite on the album. Polar Bear is an echoey masterclass of delay-kissed, glacial guitars, and elegant Mark Gardener vocals, whilst Dreams Burn Down, which opens side two, is similarly icy, but longer, more heartfelt, and ultimately, where Polar Bear encapsulates euphoria, DBD captures a hopelessness. The final two songs are probably the among the most beautiful on this list, and whilst Paralysed is perpetually underrated, it's still a sweet, youthful track of angsty sadness, Vapour Trail is what seals the deal making this my favourite album there is - I don't have to explain what's so perfect about that, do I? - and therefore my #1 essential shoegaze album you MUST, must, MUST listen to.

(Written by Calum Cashin)