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.

Here is Some New Shoegaze For You

This will be a rare post where I keep my rambling to a minimum and just present some music I like for your consideration. I’ve been trying to listen to as much shoegaze as I can on Bandcamp and think these are some of the best releases in the genre from 2017.

Overlake – Fall

This band chose a fitting album title, since their music is firmly in the autumnal style of shoegaze popularized by bands like Yo La Tengo. The trio has a fairly massive sound on some songs, but for the most part this is more subtle shoegaze with hazy guitar and perfect man/woman vocal harmonies.

The Cherry Wave – Shimaru

This group of Scots has a fairly different take on the genre than most that I’ve heard. They ditch the typical breathy vocals for a more post-hardcore style, which is combined with aggressive guitars and drums to make a sound that is like “normal” rock music, but retains the genre’s naturally dreamy, psychedelic qualities. It’s also really loud, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Tashaki Miyaki – The Dream

The Dream is a fairly standard take on the dream pop side of shoegaze that is clearly influenced by bands like Mazzy Star and Best Coast, who each added twinges of country to the style and are both also obsessed with California. Tashaki Miyaki make cinematic ballads about big city dreamers in L.A., but there is a darkness beneath their majestic sound that comes out in their lyrics, which often contain cutting social commentary.

Deafcult – Auras

Australia’s Deafcult has a bunch of guitarists and singers and uses all of them to make loud music that sounds good. Not the most in-depth description, but this is just classic shoegaze executed a high level, and it sounds the way I want it to.

Plant Cell – Flowergaze

Flowergaze is a compilation of tracks this Japanese and Chinese band has been trickling out for the last couple of years. Sort of like Deafcult, they’re a six-piece that goes for a big, expansive sound, with tracks that focus more on instrumentals and are inspired by the natural world.

Las Robertas – Waves of the New

There are a couple bands every year that I’m convinced are making music meant to cater to me personally. Costa Rica’s Las Robertas basically sound like what I wish every band would sound like, with noisy guitars, girl group harmonies, and catchy hooks. This style of sunny psychedelia is fairly common, but few bands have done it this well.