Shoegazing was a subgenre of music that branched off from the emergence of alternative rock in the 1980s and lasted briefly into the early 1990s, where grunge and Brit pop eventually assimilated the music scene and effectively ended the shoegazing movement. Spearheaded by the perfect ingenuities of My Bloody Valentine (whose third record is still being made), the shoegazing movement was highly indebted to neopsychedelia and dream pop, featuring heavy distortion and prolonged drones. The lyrics were usually very sexual and quite intimate, and in many cases the vocalist’s voice(s) became an instrument of its own. It’s unfortunate that grunge dwarfed this magnificent but relatively unknown movement, as some of these bands crafted the finest albums of their time. Here’s a list of a few of these gems:
1) Loveless by My Bloody Valentine
A swirling cacophony of guitars and beautiful voices whispering encouragingly into your ear, Loveless is undeniably the greatest shoegazing album of all time. As with many Irish records that you listen to, Loveless has spiritual qualities to it, effectively blending its Celtic roots with the layered production. What emerges is a sensational experience where you can actually feel the guitars crashing around you, but at its heart is beauty infinite. Loveless brings together chaos and beauty simultaneously to create a truly unforgettable experience.
2) Heaven or Las Vegas by Cocteau Twins
While it’s more of a dream pop record than a shoegazing release, I’m putting Heaven or Las Vegas on here because its sound was so influential towards the shoegazing movement, and also because it’s such a damn good album. Expanding upon the neo-Victorian harmonies of Treasure and taking more cues from the experimental qualities of their Blue Bell Knoll EP. Heaven or Las Vegas is ultimately Cocteau Twins’ greatest release. The owner of 4AD Records once remarked that Heaven or Las Vegas was the greatest album released on their label, and he wasn’t wrong. Paradoxically, the release of their greatest album also brought about the end of their contract with 4AD. Elizabeth Fraser’s voice is more sensible and clear here, and although you can’t really tell what she’s saying sometimes, her voice and the sweet harmonies are so blissful that you don’t really care. In doing so, she contributes to the creation of a shimmering, blissful masterpiece.
3) Against Perfection by Perfection
While the band would detest being classified as shoegazing (vocalist Piotr Fijalkowski purposely tried to avoid being a part of this movement), Against Perfection maintains many of the qualities of the shoegazing genre, though he spirals in a slightly different direction musically and lyrically. He emphasizes the musicianship and mysterious charisma of Echo and the Bunnymen and The Doors and champions it with a rich, soaring atmosphere and evocative wall of guitar. Against Perfection is a virtually unknown masterpiece that satisfies the senses and fulfills the musical appetite.
4) Souvlaki by Slowdive
Souvlaki matures and develops the sound that they embraced in Just for a Day (which is a good album, but I’d only recommend it to hardcore Slowdive fans if you’re interested). While it isn’t as experimental as their final album Pygmalion would be, Souvlaki is their greatest album, showcasing some of the greatest musical passages ever conceived. Souvlaki displays sonic dreamscapes and intimate vocals and is perfect if you’re depressed or sad. I challenge you to listen to “When the Sun Hits” and “Alison” and think otherwise.
5) Nowhere by Ride
Although Ride would delve into different subgenres later on in their career, Nowhere was their one true shoegazing record. Widely renowned as “the second best shoegazing record,” Nowhere does not disappoint. It soars and glides through your mind, and the vocals are actually really indicative of the Britpop movement to come. Nowhere is Ride at their finest hour.
6) Gemini by Wild Nothing
Gemini is a more recent release and while it’s not officially part of the true shoegazing movement, it has the beauty and capacity of a great shoegazing record. The album, especially the title track, is out of time and place, and the jangly pop sound of the guitars is not too different from the jangle pop of The Smiths. They also craft their music with beautiful synthesized sound. The result is a modern piece of excellence, not unlike M83’s recommended album Dead Cities, Red Seas. Listen to both of these records and prepare to be swept away into a realm of fantasy.
7) She Hangs Brightly by Mazzy Star
This record was actually one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite albums, and Mazzy Star’s debut album is one of their best. Hope Sandoval is absolutely mellowing and heartwarming with her soft, melifluous voice, and the calm, distorted guitars give She Hangs Brightly an enchanting presence. Among my Swan may be Mazzy Star’s best, but songs like “Ride it On” never fail to touch the heart.
8) Further by Flying Saucer Attack
Further transcends the space rock boundaries of cult wonders Flying Saucer Attack. Alongside Earth-shattering effects, the vocals are clean and resonating. You hear the vocals and their ambitious yearnings and become a part of that desire, that objective to freeze time and space and drift to infinity. When you hear “She is the Daylight,” your whole world slows down and you become absolutely entranced. Maybe Flying Saucer Attack are from space after all??
9) Whirlpool by Chapterhouse
This collection of songs from Chapterhouse’s early catalogue highlights their potential and indicates the probably direction shoegazing would have taken if Nevermind hadn’t consumed the charts in 1991. Buckle up, because Whirlpool is a wild ride.
10) Strange Free World by Kitchens of Distinction
Again, this is another band that embraces the jangle pop that defined The Smiths, but Kitchens of Distinction are interested in atmosphere and the ethereal as well as elemental space and introspection. “Drive That Fast” takes you by the hand and opens your eyes to the world. Many fans are quick to label The Death of Cool as their favourite, but I feel that Strange Free World is their most meaningful release, and their music is a tidal wave of power and emotion that flows into your heart.
11) Dead Cities, Red Seas by M83
12) Pubic Fruit by Curve
13) Sing for Sunday by Sunsplit
14) The Comforts of Madness by Pale Saints
15) Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride by Black Ryder