With the re-emergence of My Bloody Valentine and the reunions of Swervedriver and luminaries the Jesus and Mary Chain, interest in shoegaze, the heady swirl of affected guitars that became the rage in England and abroad during the early ‘90s, has been piqued again. Not that interest ever entirely dissipated as the sound the bands of the time produced has continued to inform many progeny (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Serena Maneesh, etc.). As such we thought it as good a time as any to take a look back at the records that highlighted the era, all of which sound as fresh and relevant as back then. (Please note that we’ve chosen not to include bands like the Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins that preceded the period and which were obvious influences.)
Toni Halliday’s breathy vocals and Dean Garcia’s winding guitar provided the base for Curve’s full-length debut, with mechanized beats and other electronic effects (no doubt the result of working with producer Flood) working their way into the mix. A little poppier than some of their brethren, Curve also added a touch of eroticism to a sometimes sexless scene.
London’s Lush established their reputation in England with three EPs and in America with a debut album, Gala, that compiled them. But it was with their first proper full-length, Spooky, that the band really lived up to their name. Owing a bit to labelmates the Cocteau Twins (Cocteau guitarist Robin Guthrie produced the album), the band’s sound blended the ethereal with pop sensibilities and rockist leanings to stunning effect.
Credited by many as the record that begat the shoegaze trend, Isn’t Anything was also Brian Eno’s favorite album the year it came out. They’re both deserving accolades, as the record deftly shapeshifts from stark soundscapes to overloaded guitar whine. It’s an album that improves with each listen, constantly revealing more without ever giving away all its secrets.
By the release of the Telescopes’ self-titled album in 1994, shoegaze had begun to wane. This record shows what could be done by applying new ideas to move forward. Letting a wider range of instrumentation into their misty veneer makes for an eclectic mix, but as on “Flying,” when the band is on they reach new heights.
One of the most underrated bands of the period, the Pale Saints spawned one of the most engaging and enduring albums in The Comforts of Madness. While a somewhat noisy affair, the Saints are in complete control of their sonic palette, never letting their songs get lost in the maelstrom.
Occupying the dreamier end of the shoegaze spectrum, Slowdive’s sound was largely built around the combined vocals of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell. Their second record is characterized by meandering pacing and a certain amount of melancholy, which make something of a downer, but one that doesn’t suffer because of it.
Predating the shoegaze craze by a few years, the House of Love nevertheless began on one of the genre’s preeminent labels and featured a sound that had much in common with what was to come soon after their debut’s release. Leadoff track “Christine” is a stunning wall of guitars matched to Spectoresque pop vocals. The rest of the album drifts from what could be considered characteristic of the genre, but is no less compelling.
The calm waters of Nowhere’s cover belie the tidal waves of sound packaged within. Ride was perhaps the quintessential band of the time, creating dense albums of daggerblade riffs and towering sound. Part of their charm too was their ability to allow vocals a place in the mix, and not simply as afterthoughts (see the sentimental “Vapour Trail”). Not only does this record stand out among its contemporaries, but for all the ages.
Swervedriver always stood out from the shoegazers, not only for their talent, but also for favoring a harder and darker sound with a sensibility more in common perhaps with Loop and Spacemen 3. Still, they had many shared traits with the shoegazers and ended up on many of the same bills and thus are generally lumped in with the bunch. Raise, their first album, still remains a highlight of many highpoints. Adam Franklin’s narcotic guitars lead a blistering charge that’s at once frenzied and channeled into sonic ephiphany.
There’s a good reason that so many have been waiting with baited breath for more than a decade for Kevin Shields to get around to bringing back My Bloody Valentine, and this it. From the opening chords of “Only Shallow,” Loveless is an all consuming record, a sonic terrain unlike any other. Hearing it for the first time will change how anyone hears music again. It’s a masterpiece of density, texture and songcraft that shows how much more there was to this music (when applied correctly) than staring at the ground.