Look At All This Shoegaze I Found

Even though I love shoegaze, I never feel all that inspired to write about it. It rarely has the overt themes that can lead into essays and I think the appeal of it is that it’s vague and can take on different shapes and moods depending on the listener. So instead of blathering on about whatever, I thought I’d share some of my favorite shoegaze from this year and then anyone who stumbles upon this post can listen to the songs via the links provided. I’m still going to write some dumb sentences about the bands so I feel like I did something, but feel free to skip them.

Chestnut Bakery – “Dust”

The internet sucks in many ways, but this is what is cool about it: I know absolutely nothing about the person behind Chestnut Bakery, except that she’s called “Rye,” she lives in China, and was in another band I really liked called Butterbeer. Yet I am able to listen to her music, which is like a twee version of Galaxie 500, filled with longing and beautiful, loud guitar. “Dust” starts out as a tender ballad then goes into guitar overdrive halfway through.

Tennis System – “Shelf Life”

Like many shoegaze bands, Tennis System is pretty much trying to approximate My Bloody Valentine, and does a respectable job of it here with a central riff and hushed vocals that fit the classic shoegaze mold.

Pinkwench – “Tuesday”

Hailing from Baltimore, Pink Wench provide the dirge aspect of shoegaze on “Tuesday” which has crushing riffs that almost overpower singer Sophie Alemi. She sings in a more straight-forward way than most in this genre and her more emotional performance and lyrics separate this from the pack.

Sungaze – “Washed Away”

As a connoisseur of Mazzy Star-adjacent dream-rock, a band called Sungaze will instantly catch my eye. They deliver what the name promised on “Washed Away,” which is a slow, gorgeous ballad in the vein of “Fade Into You.”

Fleeting Joys – “Returning and Returning and Returning”

Fleeting Joys (who won’t allow me to embed this song) might have gotten as close to My Bloody Valentine’s sound as anyone on their first album, Despondent Transponder. They’re back with a new album 13 years later and this closing track is the highlight, showing that the band still knows how to make the druggy, psychedelic sounds they’re known for.

Temple of Angels – “Cerise Dream”

“Cerise Dream” really toes the line between homage and being a complete knockoff, as it sounds so much like Cocteau Twins that it actually freaked me out a bit. My hunch is that a lot of bands would love to sound like this, even at the cost of being original, so I’m leaning towards this being good even if it’s so obviously in the shadow of another band.

Cosmic Waves – “Control”

This band from Denmark only has like 30 monthly listeners on Spotify for some reason, even though this is an earwormy bass-driven pop track that reminds me of a less intense version of Curve.

The Holy Circle – “Free and Young”

There are few innovations left to make in shoegaze, which makes it cool to hear a band tweak the formula a bit. The Holy Circle do that by combining the guitars with straight-forward balladry from singer Erica Burgner-Hannum, who proudly proclaims herself to be a mom-rocker. I’m guessing not all shoegaze fans will be into such a different vocal style, but I think it works well (plus I support the idea of mom rock in principle).

Rev Rev Rev – “Clutching the Blade”

Rev Rev Rev’s Des Fleurs Magiques Bourdonnaient was one of my favorite shoegaze albums of the last few years, and this is the first track from its follow-up. It’s in the same mold as the first, which is to say it’s a mix of heaviness and lightness and feels like getting launched into space.

Spotlight Kid – “Shivers”

I hadn’t heard of this band prior to this song, but they’ve been around a few years and have a solid 90s-influenced sound that brings to mind poppier shoegaze groups like Lush.

Westkust – “Swebeach”

The first album by the Swedish group since 2015’s Last Forever is like a sugar bomb with its very loud guitars and sweet melodies.

Field Mouse’s “Meaning” Sounds Sweet and Hits Hard

“When I get older, will I remember saying this?” Rachel Browne sings repeatedly at the end of “Plague No. 8,” one of the highlights from Field Mouse’s latest album,  Meaning. Confidence is so prized in artists — and people in general — that it’s refreshing to hear a song that deals frankly with uncertainty and doubt, especially about the process of creating the art itself. Almost anyone who has made anything, from a novel to an album to a random blog post, has asked the same question about if there’s any point to it, especially in the social media era where it feels like so much quality work reverberates in an echo chamber and then disappears.

The theme runs throughout Meaning, which contains a level of introspection that is rare and ultimately relatable and endearing. On “Birthday Song,” Browne’s existential crisis continues: “am I gonna make anything that outlives me?” she asks. This clearly comes from real life, and Browne had questioned whether she even wanted to make another album. She’s poured all of those frustrations and fear into her music, and it’s made Meaning into an album that hits surprisingly hard.

The surprising part is because Field Mouse, like the animal they’re named for, are a bit quiet and unassuming. Their songs are unabashedly pretty and catchy, with pleasant guitar parts from Andrew Futral and Browne’s sugary vocals, which are a pop hook in and of themselves. It’s a type of lighter, slightly noisy pop rock that feels more like something from the 90s, when bands like Velocity Girl, Tiger Trap, and Sarge were on the scene. I try not to turn everything into a meta-narrative about who’s “underrated,” but my experience is that music writers tend to undervalue bands like this for whatever reason, probably because it’s not considered cool to write catchy, sweet pop songs that show too much emotion and heart. (See also: Free Cake For Every Creature.)

Meaning plays off the presumptions people might have about their inoffensive sound, luring the listener in with its pop songwriting and then hitting them in the face with Browne’s lyrics. Part of it is how the album is sequenced: it kicks off with “Heart of Gold,” a breezier, more straight-ahead single, then gets gradually darker, with each song raising more questions and fears until it gets to “Plague No. 8” as the penultimate track with the opening lyrics “locusts swarm my body; think they sense a dream dying.” It’s the stand-out song on this album and one of the strongest of the year, a reflection on getting older and wondering if you’ll reach your potential that hits maybe too close to home for me.

Meaning never feels quite as dark as it is because of the sound and Browne’s voice, so it’s an album that ended up sneaking up on me. It’s a great example of how pop songwriting can enhance an album’s storytelling: these songs are all memorable and catchy and when they got stuck in my head, it made me start thinking more about Browne’s lyrics, which are timely and poignant. Despite all of her fears and anxieties, Field Mouse have made an album that deserves to be remembered.

There is No Point in Writing About This Ex Hex Album I Wrote About

An album like Ex Hex’s latest, It’s Real, requires very deep thought and consideration. To truly understand it, one must have a firm grasp on music theory and history, not to mention the ability to understand the sophisticated layers of meaning within every note the band plays. With all that said, I’ve put a lot of thought into this and feel that I’m up to the task of explaining this album’s unique appeal: it it has rock and roll songs that sound good, and I enjoy listening to them.

This is the second album for Mary Timony’s project, following 2014’s Rips, and there is something weirdly satisfying about how little the band has changed between albums. It’s Real scoffs at the notion of bands “making a statement” or “breaking through” and is content to simply entertain on its own terms without necessarily sparking an array of thinkpieces and discussion. While I’m certainly someone who enjoys albums that require some effort to get into, there is also a place for an album like this that only asks you to turn the volume up and your brain off.

There isn’t really a point in analyzing the songs, which are all in a similar vein of having catchy guitar riffs, melodies, and lyrics that focus on basic themes of having a good time with some slight psychedelic undertones, mostly from Timony’s patented head-in-the-clouds singing. Betsy Wright also takes lead on a couple of the strongest songs, the tough rocker “Rainbow Shiner” and the breezier “Radiate.” I truly intend to be complimentary when I say that this is not music that is really improved upon by intense lyrical breakdowns and deconstructions of its sound. Listening to it does not make you desire to read about it, which I suppose calls into question this entire exercise.

What is maybe worth analyzing is how It’s Real functions as an argument in favor of musicians with experience. Timony has been making indie rock for over 25 years now and this album has an effortless quality where it feels like she’s just writing great pop songs in her sleep. She has already done everything that today’s young indie rock bands are trying to do — she had her great angsty rock albums, her more sophisticated “break-out” albums, and her alienating artsy albums. Now with all that experience behind her, she doesn’t feel a need to impress anyone or prove herself, and I think that energy is part of what makes Ex Hex a refreshing band right now. It’s Real has strengthened her case as the indie rock GOAT, not that she cares about trying to convince anyone.