Storms in Heaven: 16 Criminally Overlooked Shoegaze Bands
Every shoegaze group will be contrasted and compared with the Holy Trinity. The swirling dissonance of My Bloody Valentine, the dreamy atmospheres of Slowdive and the neo-psychedlia of Ride have formed the essential elements of the genre. While it may be nearly impossible to avoid being scored against this rubric, there has still been room in the public consciousness for second-tier bands to garner the attention that they deserve; Lush, Pale Saints and Catherine Wheel have all secured their positions despite fluctuating success and varying degrees of recognition over the years.
Here are some more shoegaze gems that have been overlooked or underpraised, or are in desperate need of a proper reissue, most of which owe their sound to the Big Three and all of which deserve a listen if you haven't heard them yet.
BAILTER SPACE, ROBOT WORLD (1993)
Bailter Space are a dreamy and dissonant group from New Zealand that fall somewhere between Catherine Wheel and Sonic Youth. The practically tuneless wall of sound gives way to vocals that are overall very sweet and unobtrusive, though Bailter Space occasionally channel Chrome in their more robotic moments (see: "Be on Time"). Robot World, their third full-length, is a well-crafted and consistent shoegaze / noise-rock gem that is dreamy enough to float by inconspicuously, yet reveals some adroit songwriting upon closer inspection. Imagine Swervedriver's angular guitars immersed in the sonic landscape of My Bloody Valentine. No-wave chords and groovy bass lines make Bailter Space one of the heavier groups on the Flying Nun roster.
LOVELIESCRUSHING, BLOWEYELASHWISH (1993)
Loveliescrushing are about as ambient as shoegaze can get. The Chicago duo took the MBV sound to its ambient limit with the lush and formless atmosphere of Bloweyelashwish, evoking images both sublime and oneiric. There is something deeply intimate and private about these sounds, and the lack of drums makes this an exceptionally heady release. Guitarist Scott Cortez also has a more straightforward shoegaze side project, Astrobrite.
ISABEL'S DREAM, MONOMARA EP (2000)
Monomara is the only release from Isabel's Dream, the "blissbeat" project of Toronto-based musician Michael Ulrich. Originally conceived as a solo ambient project, Isabel's Dream eventually incorporated drum and bass elements into ambient soundscapes, resulting in a remarkable blend of shoegaze and electronic music (hence the blissbeat tag). Ulrich finalized the transition to a more structured sound by adding the voice of Rachel Keeler to the mix. This is a must-listen for fans of the lush IDM of Seefeel and the dreamy droning of Loveliescrushing.
BETHANY CURVE, SKIES A CROSSED SKY (1996)
The blend of post-rock and atmospheric shoegaze is expertly crafted on Skies a Crossed Sky, before Bethany Curve went even spacier for Gold, their next album. Vocally reminiscent of Pale Saints, but with much deeper textures and ambient passages. Epic and melancholy without resorting to the overly dramatic tropes that have plagued so much post-rock since the '90s.
PASTEBOARD, GLITTER (2004)
Japan has had a surge of great shoegaze groups in the past 15 years (check out the "Japanese Shoegaze" channel on YouTube if you're looking for more). Pasteboard keep things relatively straightforward, but the Japanese language makes for some welcome vocal ambiguity.
PASTEL BLUE, BLUE DEMOS (2010)
More shoegaze from Japan. Pastel Blue are essentially Japan's version of Slowdive, and they really nail it. This collection of demos, and many of these J-Gaze albums, were only released digitally. Hopefully someone gives this a proper vinyl release.
THE GOSLINGS, GRANDEUR OF HAIR (2006)
Imagine if Japanese heavy-psychers Mainliner decided to make a shoegaze album. Or better yet, if Les Rallizes Dénudés put Grouper on vocals for a collaborative doomy-garage project. The Goslings encapsulate all of this and more on their 2006 album Grandeur of Hair, having carved out a niche entirely their own, with a sound that falls just short of being categorized as harsh noise. Buried beneath the abrasive production, you'll find some surprising garage-strut grooves which, cunningly inserted between the droning passages, practically breach White Stripes territory.
STARFLYER 59, GOLD (1995)
Another underrated California group who were probably overshadowed by the fact that they were on a Christian emo / hardcore label (Tooth & Nail). Regardless, Starflyer 59's Gold is an incredibly moody album with a lot of very heavy and fat guitar sounds, mixing shoegaze with the riff-heavy slowcore styles of Codeine and Swervedriver.
CLOSEDOWN, NEARFIELD (1994)
A true gem, Nearfield is the one and only release from Closedown, who were one of the earliest L.A. bands to jump on the U.K. sound. This obscure record is noisy and ethereal, although according to the band, the original mix was softened up by the label after it was deemed to be "too noisy."
THE VERVE, A STORM IN HEAVEN (1993)
Yes, that Verve, whose overplayed radio hit, "Bittersweet Symphony," unfortunately overshadowed their early material. This debut album and their self-titled EP are some of the best shoegaze and neo-psych records of the Manchester scene at that time, before they went mainstream with a more polished Britpop sound.
CURVE, DOPPLEGÄNGER (1992)
Curve created their dynamic sound by incorporating trip-hop beats and heavy basslines provided by the brilliant and elusive Dean Garcia, but the real star of Curve is Toni Halliday, whose dark and powerful vocals resonate with the same goosebump-inducing passion as Garbage's Shirley Manson and even Madonna during her Erotica era. Curve hit harder than any of their shoegaze contemporaries, with darker and heavier tracks than most in the genre, mixing the landscapes of MBV with a more gothic aesthetic. The use of electronics and trip-hop adds a club-worthy element to Curve that most other shoegaze groups were lacking.
ALISON'S HALO, EYEDAZZLER 1992-1996 (1997)
Arizona in the early '90s might seem like an unlikely setting for a thriving shoegaze scene, but it turns out that a series of "Beautiful Noise" festivals in 1993 and 1995 featured an abundance of worthy groups that have largely fallen under the radar. Perhaps the most tragically overlooked of these is Alison's Halo, whose limited discography likely accounts for their obscurity. Eyedazzler 1992-1996 compiles most of their EPs, cassettes and random tracks recorded during that period, a collection that starts off sounding like riff-based, alt-rock-leaning shoegaze, but quickly evolves into a dream-pop sound that definitely took a few cues from Slowdive. Singer Catherine Cooper brings a strong presence to Alison's Halo, with a charming and sweet vocal style not unlike Hope Sandoval's dark-but-innocent vocal presence. Starts off heavier and ends up sounding more like Cocteau Twins.
AIRIEL, WINKS & KISSES (2004)
Winks & Kisses is a compilation of EPs from Airiel that was originally released as four separate CDs by Clairecords between 2003-2004. An inordinate number of marginal shoegaze and dream-pop groups have surfaced in recent years, but Airiel are one of the most consistent groups to have remained relatively obscure. This collection delivers track after track of tasteful and ethereal tunes that still sound fresh despite obvious influences; sonically, the group derives equal influence from the holy trinity of shoegaze, evoking MBV's textures, Slowdive's dreamy post-rock climaxes and Ride's Britpop-leaning vocal presence. One of the better shoegaze groups from the 2000s, formed in Indiana.
FLYING SAUCER ATTACK, FLYING SAUCER ATTACK (1993)
U.K. group that mixes space-rock and shoegaze for a heady result. Flying Saucer Attack's name is apropos considering that this album sounds like it was made by aliens who don't really understand how to record or play their instruments. The production really makes this record, with some awesome lo-fi stereo panning getting to your ears in a unique way.
MEDICINE, SHOT FORTH SELF LIVING (1992)
Los Angeles' answer to My Bloody Valentine, though Medicine are less noisy and lean more towards a '90s alt sound. Still, Shot Forth Self Living is a pinnacle of the West Coast shoegaze movement, with strong female vocals that are less treated than the washed-out approach that we're so familiar with.
ALL NATURAL LEMON & LIME FLAVORS, TURNING INTO SMALL (1998)
This overlooked group from New Jersey, which produced only two studio albums and a few singles, offer a fresh yet familiar sound that blends shoegaze with space rock and neo-psychedelia. The hushed, whispery vocal approach of All Natural Lemon & Lime Flavors recalls L.A. shoegazers Medicine, juxtaposed with a moments of organ-driven neo-psychedelia in the vein of Stereolab. Turning Into Small is the second album released by ANL&LF, a consistent and engaging record that ought to secure them in the annals of shoegaze history.