22 January 2010

mixtape | bliss: a shoegazing primer

by way of dipping my toes back into the blogwater, here's the shoegazing mix i posted a while back, repackaged to match the other compilations i've done recently. here's whast i said last time:

shoegazing as a music genre has popped in and out of fashion since its media inception around 1990. but these days it seems more popular than ever, with various blogs, compilations and new bands dedicated to celebrating and replicating the layered sounds popularised by just a handful of bands.

shoegazing will always have a special place in my music collection because its arrival coincided with my own musical "awakening", transforming me from someone who liked a bit of music, this and that, bits and bobs, to a rabid indie guitar fan. so i've followed this most recent revival with interest. and one thing that has bugged me is the revisionism of the higher profile commercial compilations out there. i think the issue these compilers find is that in reality there just weren't that many bands that were doing the shoegazing thing at the time - at least not to any real degree of success.

like most music scenes, it was largely a media fabrication to help shift copies of the nme. that there was a cluster of bands clearly drawing from similar influences is true, but their number was pretty small. so that's why you end up with compilations littered with the likes of lush, swervedriver, curve, spiritualized and so on - good bands in their own right, but just because you share labels and bills doesn't mean you share sound too.

so i decided, largely for my own entertainment on a wet weekend, to compile my own shoegazing primer for the uninformed out there.

::: my bloody valentine - emptiness inside
okay, so mbv aren't really shoegazing, but without them you can bet the scene would never have existed, so it would be churlish to omit them. you know about this band already.

::: ride - decay
the big guns of the scene who set the template for the others to follow: one word band name, four track eps, one word record names, a sound that blends 60s psychedelia and pop sensibility with blistering noise and tons of reverb - a sound that the band themselves admit owes a large debt to both mbv and the house of love. sadly they never bettered their debut album.

::: the boo radleys - sometime soon she said
in between aping dinosaur jr and a commercially successful stint as britpop whores, the "do badleys" released a handful of pitch perfect shoegazing eps and one album ("everything's alright forever") with a heavy emphasis on the psychedelics. they repeated the formula with follow up "giant steps", a critical success but to my ears a record digged by rubbish self-production, before eventually gifting breakfast djs everywhere with "wake up boo!".

::: bleach - dipping
the underdogs of the scene, never achieving any major commercial success. true to form, they released a couple of blinding eps but their debut album marked the beginning of an artistic and public decline. their sound featured the scene's characteristic wall of guitars, but it's metronomic repitition and salli's upfront singing/rapping style gave them a harder edge that has more in common with the camden "lurch" scene than their home counties chums.

::: moose - i'll take tomorrow
critical darlings whose first three eps are classics of the genre, but the band quickly left the sound behind, with subsequent records owing much more to country music than the chorus and distortion pedal. a brilliant band.

::: medicine - aruca
not really part of the scene in a physical sense, given they're yanks, but they were signed to creation and they have clearly listened to mbv more than a couple of times. the americans insisted on calling the genre "dreampop", belying the vast amounts of distortion on offer.

::: pale saints - sight of you
the band themselves would probably have scoffed at being included at the time, but the similarities in sound can't be denied on their first few records, even if they had more of that customary 4ad quirk to them.

::: slowdive - morningrise
it's impossible to think of shoegazing without thinking of slowdive, and i think it's fair to say that their dreamy, chorus-heavy washes of sound have been just as big an influence on later generations of "nu-gazing" (ugh) bands as mbv. and in rachel goswell they had the scene's pin up girl.

::: the telescopes - flying
i hesitate to include the telescopes, since they always had a much stronger garage influence than the others, a darker edge that links them in my mind at least with bands like spacemen 3 and loop. but for a couple of records at least they were slap bang in the heart of things.

::: the ecstasy of saint theresa - swoon
teost crept out of czechoslovakia in 1991. despite years of communist isolation, it seems a few western records were in at least limited circulation. while geographical and ideological barriers meant the band weren't able to physically participate in the escne, thanks to the support of john peel their records made their own valuable contribution in my house at least.

::: drop nineteens - winona
another contribution from across the atlantic, this thunders along like the bostonites they were. basic british elitism means they were generally considered mere copyists at the time, but they definitely had their moments.

::: moonshake - gravity
yes i know, moonshake were not a shoegazing band, and yet their debut ep indicated the contrary. the band would later admit that having signed to creation (home to ride, slowdive etc) they ought to tow the party line. unsurprisingly after this release they jumped ship to too pure,a much more natural home.

::: chapterhouse - treasure
along with ride and slowdive, chapterhouse were subject to a certain amount of inverted snobbery thanks to their home counties' backgrounds. they also had the thankless task of following nirvana's performance at reading in 1991. however, their debut album remains one of the best records of the 90s. sadly they subsequently disappeared down into an ambient black hole.

honourable mentions/deliberate omissions:

adorable: another creation band, but definitely not shoegazers, got that?
beatnik filmstars: their first ep, "themes from foreverdrone" was pure shoegazing. everything else they released: not so much (but still good though).
catherine wheel: songs like "black metallic" and "texture" do qualify them in so much as it means they had effects pedals and knew how to use them. but so did fuzzbox.
curve: yes they had dense layers of guitar noise, but they were too busy twiddling knobs on the mixing desk to look at their shoes.
lush: wikipedia etc will have you believe lush were a shoegazing band, but while they certainly shared plenty of stages (and houses) with moose etc, if it wasn't for the robin-guthrie-patented reverb layer pasted all over their records, they would be "just" a solid indie schmindie band.
revolver: their one good song is a ride rip-off.
spiritualized: no, no, no.
stereolab: like lush, part of "the scene that celebrates itself" (tim gane played occasional guitar in moose), not shoegazing.
swervedriver: generally lumped in because they were signed to creation and released eps, but they were much heavier and clearly in thrall to us college rock.
ultra vivid scene: i don't get this one.

valerie bert n ernie

*coming soon* more post rock mixes - this time the post-slint side of things... plus i will post some actual original records, not just recycled mixes, honest.

1 comment:

eeevol said...

The best shoegaze record EVER is ecstasy of saint theresa's Fluidtrance Centauri e.p., they drop the MBV pretension for a more ambient sound with some brilliant guitar work, if you google it you can find a d/l link really easily