Saturday, April 18, 2015

Deep Thoughts on Shoegaze

I love bands that have a shoegaze influence. Generally when people say "shoegaze," they mean atmospheric, heavily distorted guitar textures like those in My Bloody Valentine's classic 1990 album Loveless.

"Only Shallow" is a good encapsulation of their sound. There are heavy drums, swirling guitars, and all of it washed through layers of filters and effects. When people use the term "shoegaze" in reference to a band, it is that guitar sound that they are trying to describe.

I'm actually not much of a fan of most of the other bands that were affiliated with the first wave of shoegaze - Slowdive, Ride, Lush, Swervedriver, etc. I haven't listened to enough Swervedriver or Ride to make an informed opinion, but to my mind Slowdive and Lush were too slight and poppy. What made My Bloody Valentine exciting was the heaviness to the music. It hit hard and had a solid bottom. They expertly combined the pretty with the dissonant. Sonic Youth were obviously a big influence on My Bloody Valentine, especially on MBV's precursor to Loveless, Isn't Anything. Sonic Youth pioneered using guitars as textures vs. strictly for riffs and melodies.  In a lot of ways, it's an evolution of punk's reliance on distortion.

Loveless may have bankrupted MBV's label and broke up the band, but it has inspired generations of musicians. Immediately after its release bands from the Smashing Pumpkins to Superchunk incorporated the guitar textures of MBV into their music. As a generation of kids came up listening to that album, they started making music with those sounds as well.

One of my favorite shoegaze-influenced albums is ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead's Source Tags and Codes.

Deerhunter are another band use the wall of guitar to good effect:

Metal bands were influenced by MBV as well. Deftones' 2003 self-titled album has a huge shoegaze influence, which contributed to the pretty but formless shape of that album.

Fucked Up also combine the shoegaze guitar swirls and prettiness with the ugliness and brutality of Damien Abraham's vocals. The Chemistry of Common Life is one of my favorite albums of the this century, and it's largely the multi-guitar squall of songs like "Days of Last" that make it such a powerful album:

Tombs' early stuff aslo has a strong shoegaze influence, like "Gossamer."

There's a whole subgenre of black metal called "Blackgaze" which combines black metal and shoegaze. Most of what I've heard lumped in that category sucks, to be perfectly frank. There's a cheesiness that I've never associated with shoegaze in Alcest, say. Some of it is interesting. Blut Aus Nord have made several shoegaze-influenced albums. Those elements mix uncomfortably with the evil vocals and metallic guitars that are Blut Aus Nord's trademark, but it still works. Deafheaven are perhaps the most famous and successful band to combine black metal and shoegaze. Part of what makes a song like "Dream House" so powerful is its mix of swirling guitars, blast beats, and screeched vocals. It's heavy but pretty at the same time.

Bosse-de-Nage are another Bay Area metal band who have a heavy shoegaze influence. They just released their fourth album, called All Fours. I don't totally get why they are classified as being black metal; to me they sound like post-hardcore, something that might be on Ebullition circa 1998. Again, they have prettiness that tempers the ugliness and brutality of their vocals. They also seem to come from more of a punk perspective musically, at least in the tone of their guitars and the singer's voice. All of which makes for a sound that I really like. I've been listening to  "untitled" from their first album on repeat:

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