I’ve always considered shoegaze the “I know it when I hear it” genre.
For much of Pitchfork’s new “50 Best Shoegaze Albums of All Time” list, I have no qualms. My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless belongs at number one, and Ride’s Nowhere and Slowdive’s Souvlaki could interchange between #2 and #3, I really don’t care. I love the inclusion of Mercury Rev – in 1992, I saw them make a UK crowd boo, which isn’t easy. Also love seeing the Swirlies (maybe), Blonde Redhead (yes), and the Drop Nineteens (yesyes) included.
And I’m OK with including Ride’s Going Blank Again rather than the Smile compilation of their first two EPs. The latter were much more exciting if you heard them before Nowhere appeared; the former, which was fine, was a letdown if you loved Nowhere, albeit an unfair assessment given Nowhere was a Zombies-meets-Sonic Youth masterpiece.
But (and you knew it was coming) for instance, Seefeel’s “Quique” isn’t a shoegaze record. At all. I say that as someone who loves it, too. It was shoegaze affiliated, but upon release no one considered it as anything other than ambient dub-IDM, not even its makers.
Pitchfork’s idea of shoegaze seems equally arbitrary in a number of spots. Kitchens of Distinction? Not really, not if your list ignores Jesus and Mary Chain or omits things like Dinosaur Jr’s Bug. (And while I enjoy Kitchens of Distinction, I consider them the gateway drug to The Ocean Blue). Plus, if you want to go left-field and redefine the genre for an entry, how about: Califone? Godspeed You Black Emperor? The Church’s Starfish? Or the Straitjacket Fits, who invented Radiohead? Deerhunter? Hell, there’s even Prolapse.
Pitchfork’s list also attempts to integrate relevancy by including recent or current artists, like Nothing, a solid representative. But is Nothing any more fitting than omissions like Ringo Deathstarr, or the politically uncool Whirr, whose 2013 Pipe Dreams album was more interesting than Nothing’s excellent but studiously reverential Tired of Tomorrow(2016)?
Am I adding just to add? I do have standards. Pitchfork is right to omit the interesting, definitely-shoegaze Cranes. Cranes never made a fully decent album (neither did Chapterhouse, despite one big single, but there they are, listed at #17). And I agree with omitting the Cocteau Twins. Even at their most lyrically obtuse, they were distortion free, tuneful, and precise. Fraser’s singing, although in her own language, was out front and in your face.
The unjustly omitted:
Hammock – Raising Your Voice … Trying to Stop an Echo (2006)
Hammock’s 2006 album is relentlessly inventive and plaintively gorgeous, and meanwhile so obviously shoegaze, as are all their albums, that if I were their manager I’d be earning my salary this morning with an angry text to whichever editor or intern I knew at Pitchfork. Omission of Hammock is one of this list’s biggest crimes.
Sigur Rós –Ágætis byrjun (1999)
Later albums by Sigur Rós are far more defined by pristine landscapes and Jonsi’s acrobatic falsetto. But this, their second album, was dead-center shoegaze, from the searing, echoing guitar figure on “Svefn-G-Englar” to the Ride-like crescendo of Ný Batterí.
Wedding Present – Seamonsters (1991)
If memory serves, David Gedge himself admitted that this, the third WP album, was their shoegaze entry, and what an entry it was, putting to shame some of their contemporaries. Added benefit: It might be their best album, overall. Additional feat: ripping a shoegaze album out of producer Steve Albini, who would probably put his hand inside your chest and pull out your beating heart before admitting he was behind the board for such a genre.
AR Kane – 69 (1988)
Another embarrassment for Pitchfork’s list. AR Kane makes such vastly different records throughout their career, it’s often forgotten they helped invent shoegaze with this album on Rough Trade. Oh, and ho hum, in their spare time they help invent trip hop by linking up with Colourbox to record “Pump Up the Volume” as M/A/R/R/S. But any idea of Slowdive starts here:
Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)
How Pitchfork could make any shoegaze list and forget this album is just flabbergasting. It’s like making a list of the “50 Best Soul Records” and leaving off “James Brown Live at the Apollo.”
Bailter Space – Thermos (1989) and Robot World (1993)
You don’t have to be a real shoegaze-head to be aware of what went on in New Zealand and Australia in the late 80s and most of the 90s. Noise rock flourished, for one thing. The guitar became a completely reinvented rock instrument in the hands of bands like Swell Maps, Snapper, or the Jean Paul Sarte Experience. Any failure to recognize 1980s New Zealand bands’ influence on shoegaze is a big mistake. Bailter Space was the most uniformly shoegaze NZ band, at least guitar-wise, rising from the noise-meisters in the Gordons after only a simple name change. Their second and third albums, Thermos and Robot World, are their key shoegaze moments, and if bands like Ride or Catherine Wheel say they didn’t hear these records, they did and just don’t remember. On Thermos, on one of their best songs overall, Bailter Space encase a gorgeous melody behind an angry, abrasive guitar intro. Subsequent albums Vortura or Wammo comport themselves almost as nicely, but Bailter Space increasingly grew less shoegaze-like over time. That’s not to say quality declined – all four albums are worth your time, as are later efforts.
Flyying Colours – EPX2 (2015)
A collection of two EPs, this could be disqualified if it wasn’t so dang good. Flyying Colours seem to either undergo changes or experience style indecisiveness from EP to EP, but more often than not, each track investigates shoegaze elements with inventiveness and talent. A search of Pitchfork reveals they’ve slept on Flyying Colours completely. This has been in my head for about two years now:
Galaxie 500 -anything
How big an omission? I don’t like Galaxie 500 that much at all (we all have our taste failings) and even I agree they belong on Pitchfork’s list way more than Alcest, Adorable, or the Verve.
The House of Love – S/t with the Butterfly cover (1990)
I can imagine arguments against this one, due to the sonic clarity, but to omit it and include the Brian Jonestown Massacre, instead, who isn’t anyone’s idea of shoegaze, smells of a rat.
Skywave –Sythstatic (2003) and Echodrone (1999)
How cool would it have been for Pitchfork to take this opportunity to showcase the terrific but completely unsung band that preceded A Place to Bury Strangers? They sniffed at Sythstatic a bit with a 7.5. A serious omission, especially if they’re going to include North Carlonia’s Veldt. In the mid-nineties, a smart little shoegaze scene began to form in the south-to-south-mid-Atlantic states (Lorelei! Velocity Girl!) and Skywave, in Virginia, became the best of them. Dare I say it, but I prefer these records to anything by APTBS, and there’s little difference in the sound between the two. Main difference: Skywave’s songs were better.
Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagoneseque (1991)
You may say bah humbug, but I submit: how many songs on Teenage Fanclub’s second album feature long, guitar fuzzed, lyric-free intros or codas? How supremely shoegaze was “Star Sign?” There’s little difference between the following and Ride, and it you don’t think so, duck my shoe: