Shoegaze is the eye in the center of the storm. A typical song in the genre will create a whirlwind of guitar noise and thunder, as loud as anything else, and then somehow find a cozy corner of that hurricane to chum around in. The boundary lines between shoegaze and other genres are constantly blurring and being redrawn, but it’s easy to get a feel for the “shoegaze sound”. Here are 15 songs that have helped make me the lifelong devotee I am today.
Chapterhouse – “Pearl”
Shoegaze drummers don’t get a lot of loving, but the unforgettable drum breaks that interrupt Chapterhouse’s “Pearl” are just as key as any of the guitar swirls eddying around the rest of the track’s environs. As a fantastic pop song in its own right, “Pearl” is a great intro to the genre.
Slowdive – “Machine Gun”
Slowdive’s Souvlaki is an incredibly melancholic and romantic disc, and “Machine Gun” is the most melancholic and romantic song of the lot. The entire band seem to melt together into one swooning breath. Here are masters of the genre at their very peak, before they abandoned many of the tropes for the equally stunning Pygmalion.
Boris – “Farewell”
Boris have tackled just about every rock subgenre under the sun, but the entrancing noise-jam stance they parlayed on Pink is where I fell in love with them. On songs like “Farewell”, they stretch shoegaze textures to their breaking points and then shatter them with sudden thunderclaps of noise. If you’re looking for dronegaze, noisegaze, or any other unholy union of man and guitar, Boris likely have you covered.
My Bloody Valentine – “Soon”
No shoegaze introduction would be complete without a cut from My Bloody Valentine’s landmark album Loveless. With Loveless, the band created a new vision for shoegaze music to follow. These were no longer standard rock songs bathed in reverbed guitar, they were unique creations capable of channeling ideas, moods, and emotions unique to the genre. “Soon,” Loveless’ final track, is a stunning capstone on a peerless work of art.
Asobi Seksu – “Trails”
Though best known for their sophomore album Citrus, Asobi Seksu hit a late-career peak with “Trails”. The song is a clear homage to dream pop pioneers Cocteau Twins, but it comes into its own during its explosive 2nd half.
The Verve – “Feel”
The Verve are better known for the pristine string-led “Bittersweet Symphony,” but they started out as a group of fuzz-loving guitar freaks. “Feel,” off their self-titled EP, connects those two eras. It’s a pristine hit of sunshine that rises and falls for over 10 minutes. It’s too bad it has to end there.
Bowery Electric – “Empty Words”
An intoxicating blend of shoegaze and trip-hop, Bowery Electric’s Beat is a milestone in the evolution of both genres. Martha Schwendener’s vocals on “Empty Words” provide a great example of the typical shoegaze singing style: soft and unhurried, and situated above a bed of constantly-shifting noise.
Kitchens of Distinction – “Under the Sky, Inside the Sea”
Kitchens of Distinction bridged the gap from REM’s murkier compositions to early shoegaze and dream pop. Their songs are bright and hook-filled, and they utilize reverb more than they focus on distortion or noise. Strange Free World, their strongest collection, is a great intro to shoegaze for those coming from a college rock or indie rock background for those same reasons.
Flying Saucer Attack – “Wish”
Shoegaze is a noisy genre, but few artists veered as close to actual noise as Flying Saucer Attack. Their debut album is full of lengthy, blown-out mantras that feel inexplicably rural. “Wish” is a sublime example of the genre moving away from its pop roots and into another realm entirely.
MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS – “delusionalism”
MASS OF THE FERMENTING DREGS not only have one of the best band names of all time, they’re also pretty damn great at busting out short, sweet shoegaze gems. “delusionalism” is maybe the most direct song in this playlist, but that only accentuates the slight blur that helps everything go down smooth.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Starla”
Smashing Pumpkins are rarely labelled as a shoegaze band, but frontman Billy Corgan’s love for swarming guitars and high-pitched vocalizations cause a lot of early cuts to sound distinctly shoegazian. “Starla,” a highlight from the rarities collection Pisces Iscariot, showcases a level of confidence and technical capability rarely seen in the genre.
Medicine – “Long as the Sun”
Classic shoegaze band Medicine roared back onto the scene in 2013 with “Long as the Sun,” which is emblematic of their unique approach to songwriting. Shards of noise and spans of musical tundra give way to glorious bursts of warmth and melody. As outsiders in a genre made up of outsiders, Medicine remain one of the most interesting veterans of the scene.
Ride – “Mouse Trap”
Ride are best known for Nowhere, one of the most critically lauded and well-known shoegaze albums of all time. Their follow up though, Going Blank Again, is the one I love. It’s one of the most summery shoegaze albums ever made, and it excels in an area where many shoegaze albums fear to tread: it’s fun to listen to. Cheery shoegaze doesn’t get much better.
Alcest – “Autre temps”
Alcest reside at one of the more interesting genre boundaries: the surprisingly thin line between shoegaze and metal. Their songs are louder and more intense than the typical dream pop devotees, but there’s a nocturnal glow to the vocals and production which keeps things from losing that dreamy glow. Pioneers in their own growing circle, Alcest continue to mine the two genres for scintillating shared features.
No Joy – “Hare Tarot Lies”
Members of the current class of shoegaze hopefuls, No Joy combine pristine dream pop sections with chugging, sputtering noise rock. “Hare Tarot Lies” helped kick off the radio station that gave this playlist its name, and I’d be doing history a disservice if I didn’t include the gem of a song on this list.