2022 Catch Up: Shoegaze/Dream Pop Edition

I’m not listening to music as intensely as some previous years, and I’m not really interested in writing long essays about albums much anymore, but I still thought I’d drop in and share some favorites from 2022 so far. I’ve somewhat arbitrarily chopped it into different segments of my taste pie chart so I’m not randomly dropping a ton of different artists at once, which would maybe be overwhelming for anyone who is still checking this out for some reason. Let’s start in one of my main wheelhouses: the general noisy/dreamy/psychedelic umbrella.

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Emotional Eternal

This is Melody Prochet’s third album, following the standard dream pop of her 2012 self-titled debut and 2018’s delightfully bonkers Bon Voyage, which I felt was one of the best psychedelic albums of the last decade. Emotional Eternal nestles somewhere in between these two extremes; it’s more coherent like the debut while maintaining some of the whimsical charm and experimentation of Bon Voyage. She couldn’t really out-crazy that album, so I like this landing point for Emotional Eternal and its mix of heart, quirks, and prettiness.

Mo Dotti – Guided Imagery

This L.A. band got on my radar with 2020’s Blurring EP; Guided Imagery is a solid step forward that sees them focusing more on the poppier side of shoegaze. “Loser Smile” is a stand-out jam single with the crunchy guitars and heavenly harmonies, and their cover of the Stephin Merritt/Mary Timony song “All Dressed Up in Dreams” is a jangly gem that adds some polish and more dreaminess to the source material.

Widowspeak – The Jacket

Widowspeak has been a staple of the blog, and I’ve gone on laboriously about how I think they’re great and it feels like other outlets just shrug at their albums now or ignore them entirely. The Jacket is pretty much what I expect from them now: it’s thoughtful, sounds great, and is comforting and familiar without feeling like the band is just running in place. This kind of subtle evolution/refinement doesn’t seem to play well when it comes to hyping up a band, but I feel like a lot of people would love this album if they gave it a shot.

Dummy – Mono Retriever

If you are at all pre-disposed to the kind of music in this post, Dummy’s first full-length Mandatory Enjoyment was either one of your favorite albums of the year or you didn’t hear about it. I cannot fathom any fan of Stereolab, My Bloody Valentine, and all the usual suspects not being in love with this band. Over this little two-song single, the band shows their whole range of influences and their ability to filter them into a style that is familiar while still being original. “Mono Retriever” is the more upbeat krautrock pop piece and “Pepsi Vacuum” shows their meditative, dreamy side before closing out with some beautiful noise blasts.

Papercuts – Past Life Regression

This is the first album I’ve heard from Jason Quever, who has been around for quite a few years now. Even without reading a Bandcamp bio, it’s evident from the refined, confident style of Past Life Regression. This is super smooth, sharply written jangle pop that is reminiscent of 60s bands like The Byrds while incorporating bits from 90s and current shoegaze groups. Pretty much every flavor of jangly/dreamy/noisy pop is present across this album, and it’s all executed to near perfection.

Healees – Healees

This international group based in France is working in about the same space as Papercuts, with the loud jangly guitars along with solid songwriting. The lead track, “Any Day,” is a shimmering slice of guitar pop, and the rest of this 25-minute release mostly follows its lead, focusing on melancholy hooks and soaring harmonies.

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.