FRITZ Erases Generation Gaps With Timeless Fuzz Pop

A possibly controversial opinion I have is that it should be illegal for anyone younger than me to have talent or experience success. When I was one of the only people to not really like that Phoebe Bridgers album last year, I did consider the possibility that it was a result of petty ageism and part of my ongoing transformation into a grumpy old guy who spends his days yelling at kids — not to get off my lawn, since at this point it’s unlikely I’ll ever own a lawn, but just generally yelling at them about nothing in particular. On the other hand, I haven’t really grown up in any meaningful sense, so in theory I shouldn’t have a problem enjoying music by young people about young people things, right?

Pastel, the new album by FRITZ, is the type of young person music I’ve been yearning for. Instead of cultivating a false sense of world-weariness or a weird, otherworldly maturity, 21-year-old Tilly Murphy sings songs about growing up and not having everything figured out. The title track is about dying her hair blue and developing her own confidence and identity; the ode to young friendship, “Die Happily,” tells the aftermath of a teen sleepover, where “Froot Loops and soda covered the floor.” “Jan 1” ends the album with a rush of guitar adrenaline, and its lyrics are a relatable portrayal of end-of-year anxiety and the desire for self-improvement. For all the talk about generation gaps, Pastel makes a decent case that a lot of these feelings and experiences don’t really change.

The construction of a memorable pop song doesn’t really change, either, and Murphy’s most prodigious gift is her ability to write catchy riffs and soaring melodies that fit into a classic framework. Pastel‘s fuzzy, occasionally jangly sound is a throwback to more pop-centric shoegaze groups, or early twee pop like Tiger Trap and Black Tambourine that made loud guitars seem sticky sweet. She buries her voice a bit beneath the wall of sound, but it’s still easy to pick up on most of her lyrics, which are simply written, intended to evoke authentic young feelings instead of reading like a soliloquy. That’s part of why Pastel has a distinctive voice and personality to it, which is often the missing ingredient in shoegaze or fuzz rock, and a lot of what’s making me happy about this album is its ability to modernize these sounds while also understanding what makes them appealing to so many listeners in the first place. There’s a delicate balance of old and new ideas on here, and also a blend of moods (angst, anxiety, happiness, sadness) that reflect the carefree days of youth and the bittersweet feelings of growing up.

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.

Vyva Melinkolya is a Reminder of Why Shoegaze is Great

I watched lot of figure skating and icedancing during the Olympics. In those competitions, contestants receive two different scores during the routine: there is the technical score, where the judges determine how well they executed certain elements of their routine, then there is a program component score that measures their artistry, interpretation and presentation. Honestly, it’s a pretty baffling scoring system for a sport and it is communicated very poorly to the viewing audience, but it got me thinking about how I evaluate music, especially shoegaze.

There is a very established shoegaze formula, and like those figure skating routines, there are certain elements I really want the performer to nail. It comes down to a certain balance of the reverb and noise of the guitar with the vocals and the melodies. Everyone who makes this music is aware of that framework and there’s a large supply of technically competent shoegaze out there. Where I’ve found artists struggle most is in that “program component” area: a lot of shoegaze will sound the way I want, but it’s hard to make it feel personal and meaningful, which is how the formula can be transcended.

I found this album on Bandcamp by Vyva Melinkolya, and it stands out because of how it nails the technical aspects of shoegaze while also having a personal touch — it’s a melding of the shoegaze formula with the type of intimate recordings that Bandcamp makes possible. On a technical level, the sound of this album is like a tribute to all the shoegazers of the past, and it’s easy to hear the inspiration from Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and others. But what I really love about it is how it has a real sense of individuality and purpose. While shoegaze can so easily be impersonal and focused purely on aesthetics, this album suggests that, beneath all the layers of reverb and noise, it can be a way for an artist to express their true self.

Alyc Diaz is the artist here, and this self-titled album really feels like it reflects her personality and experiences, even if a lot of it is kept under a veil of noise. To that end, she helps with any problems deciphering the lyrics by adding intimate little notes on each song on Bandcamp, which could have been handwritten in a different era. They give the impression of an artist who is passionate about this style of music and is trying to figure out who she is. The note on “Identity” says it’s “about a lot of things. Gender, trauma, seeing things that aren’t there, transitioning.” In the song, she sings “I look in the mirror, don’t even know me.”

The uncertainty in the lyrics is a natural match for the shoegaze style, which can allow a singer to remain hidden from view. Beneath the sheets of guitar, Diaz carves out a little world for herself, proving the universal power of shoegaze: it doesn’t care about your gender, the language you speak, or really anything else as long as you can get that chemistry right. In track after track, Diaz finds the right balance of loudness and quiet and ugliness and beauty.

Her talents are immediately present on the first track, “Love’s Easy Years (Nonbinary Heartbreak).” Its title, which references the Cocteau Twins’ “Love’s Easy Tears,” along with the heavy opening riff make it instantly clear that she knows the history of this music and how to recreate it. There is a feeling of longing in the song and its lyrics, when Diaz insists “love’s easy years will come to me if I truly believe.” Like the rest of this album, this song functions as an ode to what makes shoegaze great and as a powerful personal statement.