Here comes that mammoth swell of reverb... again.
A nostalgia trip for droning harmonies, hushed vocals, and fuzzed-out distortion seems to be the motivation behind the recent "shoegaze" revival. Or perhaps this renewed interest is more "romantic" than that? Could it be a longing for "millennials" to attach themselves to the irony and inherent pessimism that plagued Generation X and nearly every shoegaze record from the late '80s early '90s? Or could it just be nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia? Trends and styles in music are always cyclical and the recent abundance of "shoegaze" records shows us that. Who's ready for the 2020 shoegaze revival? I am.
Here are five records that embody this new wave of "shoegaze" and do it particularly well. So bring out your old flannel shirt and forget about that girl that broke up with you in 11th grade. She was a bit of a cunt anyway.
Nothing, Guilty of Everything (Relapse Records, 2014)
This record has been receiving quite a bit of buzz lately and rightfully so. I first caught Nothing at a show in LA last year with fellow shoegaze gurus Whirr. Soon after that I picked up their 2012 EP, Downward Years to Come (A389). The EP held a ton of potential, and featured the hallmark earth-shattering reverb/flange of their peers, but lacked the songwriting chops. Guilty of Everything is the sound of a band that has matured, and quickly. There is an actual sense of melody on this record that a lot of newer "shoegaze" bands lack. "Dig," the first single, bounces and sways with heavy distortion and dual hushed vocals, and features a surprisingly memorable chorus. Guilty of Everything never gets self-indulgent or too big for its own sake, and I praise it for that.
Favorite tracks: "Dig," "Get Well," "Bent Nail."
The Daysleepers, Drowned in a Sea of Sound (Claire Records, 2008)
A friend of mine sent me this record from The Daysleepers when it came out in 2008 and it blew me away. The "shoegaze" revival I'm referring to was not fully under way (at least not to my knowledge) so when I heard Drowned in a Sea of Sound it caught me completely off-guard. Drowned in a Sea of Sound really pays homage to the "dreamscape" feel of the Cocteau Twins. The vocals on this record are also really high up in the mix and prominent, which is great, because like the Cocteau Twins and Slowdive, they have a knack for great melodies. "Lovesparkles" features vocals by Jeff Kandefer and honey sweet harmonies by Elizabeth Kandefer, and breezes along amidst a citrus-like wash of flange and reverb.
My favorite track on the record is "The Secret Place," a nearly 7-minute shoegaze waltz that builds and crashes a few times. However, the "crash" is not so much a "crash," as a soft descent into a cold pillow. Drowned in a Sea of Sound shimmers and radiates with the sort of yearning, melodramatic atmospheres that make the "shoegaze" genre so captivating at times.
Favorite tracks: "The Secret Place," "Lovesparkles," "Megatron Supernova."
Whirr, Pipe Dreams (Tee Pee Records, 2012)
Whirr (formerly Whirl) hail from San Francisco, and are an integral part of the current "shoegaze" revival. Pipe Dreams is the band's first full-length record and features 10 tracks of nicely crafted noise-pop. During the recording of Pipe Dreams the band was fronted by female-vocalist Alexandra Morte. Her contribution on Pipe Dreams is a particularly haunting (if not somewhat derivative) take on the hushed female vocal that is so prevalent in the genre. "Junebouvier" kicks the album off nicely with layered guitars and quick-tempo drumming. The album seems to alternate between a floating atmosphere and a melodramatic, punk urgency.
Tracks either murmur along quietly, coming and going without a trace, or rush forward with noise-pop gusto. It should be said that the standout track (for me) on this record falls in line with neither of those descriptions. "Formulas and Frequencies" has the same maudlin sensibilities of the other tracks, but instead of layers upon layers of guitars, we get a paired down piano and acoustic guitar track, which creates an incredibly haunting, detached atmosphere. The song floats aimlessly, with Morte's vocals providing a grand sense of melancholy. After "Formulas" the album resumes its mad noise-pop pace.
Favorite tracks: "Formulas and Frequencies," "Junebouvier," "Home Is Where My Head Is," "Bogus."
Weekend, Jinx (Slumberland Records, 2013)
No, not that Weekend. Apart from the unfortunate coincidence regarding their name and the confusion it breeds, the "shoegaze" Weekend turned in one of the better records of 2013. Jinx is Weekend's second full-length record, and the follow-up to 2010's decidedly more lo-fi noise affair, Sports. Jinx features the same shimmering guitars and Peter Hook-esque bass lines we've come to expect from Weekend, but with more mature songwriting and grander pop sensibilities.
There is also a massive synth-pop influence on this album that can be heard on tracks like "It's Alright" and "Celebration, Fl." The melodies are more clear and concise on Jinx and the layers of heavy synth, and almost Martin Hannett-esque drum machine sounds complement Weekend nicely (just listen to "Sirens"). Standout track "It's Alright" features heavy-synth arrangements that underscore the brightly-toned guitar tracks. "Scream Queen" opens with a pulsing vintage drum machine, and is probably the most rhythmic track on the album. Jinx really shines in how it pairs the post-punk atmosphere of Joy Division, the loud shimmer of the Cocteau Twins, with a fantastic synth-pop production sense.
Favorite tracks: "Mirror," "It's Alright," "Oubliette."
Anne, Dream Punx (A389 Recordings, 2011)
Since releasing Dream Punx in 2011, Anne has gone in a different direction sonically, but not before releasing one of the better albums in the genre. From the album cover that features a bouquet of flowers photoshopped with a violet-colored filter, to the music inside, Dream Punx is "shoegaze" by the books, with a touch of something else. What makes Dream Punx unique is its subtle use of synth in various tracks. "Lower Faiths" for example, rises and falls under a synth back-drop and has a definite New Order vibe to it.
The comparisons to My Bloody Valentine and The Cure are all warranted, but Dream Punx does a good job at veiling these influences by the melting pot of sounds within. There's the sprawling shoegaze dirge of "All Your Time," the New Order-esque "Virginal Plight," and the abstract noise of "Thrush." All these tracks are imbued with enough of the same mournful vocal delivery and hazy atmospherics that are hallmarks of the "shoegaze" genre. Dream Punx is definitely a touchstone release in this current shoegaze revival.
Favorite tracks: "Lower Faiths," "Perfect Teeth," "Summer Babies."