The musical genre known as "shoegaze" already starts with one strike against it: the term doesn't even remotely do justice to the sound, so it's misused, and misunderstood. When the term was coined by the British press in the late-1980's, the artists playing this type of music weren't so much gazing at their navels as deftly manipulating palettes of guitar effects pedals to create ethereal, other-worldly sounds -- usually at maximum volume.
With the recent resurrection of genre pioneers like My Bloody Valentine and its American counterpart, Medicine, we present The Soundcheck Guide To Shoegaze.
This segment originally aired on March 19, 2014.
Shoegaze: A Very Brief Introduction
Flavorwire senior editor Tom Hawking guides Soundcheck host John Schaefer through the dense undergrowth of early-'90s shoegaze music, pointing out highs and lows, and talking about the resurgence of the genre in the last few years.
MUST HEAR TRACKS:
My Bloody Valentine, "Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)" from My Bloody Valentine (1988)
Tom Hawking:You can't really discuss shoegaze without them. Loveless is a masterpiece (and m b v is pretty good, too), but it was Isn't Anything pretty much laid the template for the genre. (Although, weirdly, a lot of the stuff that came after didn't sound a great deal like it.
Ride, "Polar Bear" from Nowhere (1990)
T.H.: You can definitely see the influence of MBV here, though — the guitar sound, especially. It's a shame that Andy Bell ended up in Oasis.
Chapterhouse, "Breather" from Whirlpool (1991)
T.H.: Kinda underrated band from the original shoegaze era who never really had a huge amount of success, which is strange, as their sound is as prototypically shoegaze as you can get.
Pale Saints, "A Thousand Stars Burst Open" from In Ribbons (1992)
T.H.: You couldn't really get a more grandiose title, but the song itself is surprisingly pretty — if shoegaze is about a balance between dark sounds and pretty melodies, then the darkness here is more atmospheric than the distortion and hostility of MBV etc.
Medicine, "Aruca" from Shot Forth Self Living (1992)
T.H.: They often get called the "American My Bloody Valentine," and you can see why – they get similarly outlandish sounds from their guitars, and this song strikes a very MBV-ish balance between noise and melody. Guitarist Jim Putnam went on to form Radar Bros, who are one of my fave bands of the 1990s.
Slowdive, "Souvlaki Space Station" from Outside Your Room (1993)
T.H.: The title is kinda absurd, and the song does exemplify the genre's tendency to disappear up its own ass at times.
Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, "Belong" from Belong (2011)