Where to Start With Shoegaze: 10 Essential Albums

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If you’re like us, you’re probably pretty darn excited about the news that a new My Bloody Valentine album might be out by the end of the week — after all, we’ve been waiting for new material from the shoegaze luminaries since 1991. To celebrate the possibility that the wait might finally be over, we thought we’d take a look back at shoegaze in all its reverb-laden, hypnotic glory. We’ve flipped lovingly through our record collection to pick ten essential examples of the genre, both old and new, encompassing both the 4AD/Creation-centric glory days of the early 1990s and the nu-gaze revival that started a few years back and continues to this day. But this list is just an introduction, so let us know what you’d add.

My Bloody Valentine — Isn’t Anything

If we’re going to start somewhere, we may as well start with the classics. Because Loveless gets a shitload of (entirely deserved) plaudits, My Bloody Valentine’s debut album tends to get somewhat overlooked by comparison, so we’re including it here for the sake of posterity. The opening track, “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside),” pretty much defines the band’s sound, combining a bassline that’s both driving and catchy with stabs of distorted guitar and a decidedly hummable melody.

Slowdive — Just for a Day

Stalwarts of the scene that celebrated itself, Slowdive took their name from a Siouxsie and the Banshees song (a fact that made explicit the lineage that led from the dark, introverted sounds of goth to the, um, dark, introverted sounds of shoegaze), and released three albums during the early ’90s that captured the shoegaze sound perfectly — especially this classic debut, which was apparently improvised entirely in the studio. These days the majority of the band members make up the country-influenced Mojave 3, and are apparently working on new material after a hiatus of nearly a decade.

Ride — Nowhere

They apparently disliked the “shoegazing” tag, but Ride’s early EPs and this debut album will be forever identified with the genre, largely because you really couldn’t find better examples of the genre’s abiding aesthetic. Their career rather suffered when they tried to move away from their original sound, too, and the fact that Andy Bell ended up playing bass for Oasis (and, later, Liam Gallagher’s vanity project Beady Eye) was one of the more depressing developments of the 2000s.

Underground Lovers — Leaves Me Blind

This Australian group never quite attracted the audience it deserved, perhaps because Underground Lovers’ sound was out of step with the prevailing fashion in their homeland, and perhaps because the UK press was just a wee bit xenophobic (Melody Maker memorably described this album as “too clever,” an unintended compliment if there ever was one.) In any case, Leaves Me Blind is a lost genre classic, capturing the atmosphere of shoegaze while also defining a sound all its own, one less drenched in reverb than the band’s UK contemporaries but with a similar hypnotic power.

Asobi Seksu — Citrus

NYC trio Asobi Seksu were making second-wave shoegaze long before anyone thought to coin the phrase “nu-gaze.” Their sound draws on the two poles of late ’80s/early ’90s British guitar music — namely dream pop and shoegaze. “It’s Too Late” (above), from their 2004 debut Citrus, combines the two into one epic track, starting out as a delicate, dreamy lament and then imploding in a furious flare-out of distorted guitars.

Swervedriver — Raise

Swervedriver’s career predated shoegaze — they first came together in 1984 — but their aesthetic found a home when a bunch of stylistically similar bands emerged during the late ’80s and early ’90s. Their career trajectory from there pretty much followed that of the genre with which they’ll forever be identified — critical success in the early ’90s, then a fall from grace as their sound went out of fashion with the advent of Britpop. They went their separate ways in the mid-’90s, but happily, they reunited in 2012, to the delight of floppy-haired introverts everywhere.

Chapterhouse — Whirlpool

One of the original shoegaze scene’s lesser-known bands, Chapterhouse are nevertheless pretty much compulsory listening if you like your music dreamy and introverted. You can definitely hear the influence of their sound in today’s nu-gaze scene, and their debut album Whirlpool — which got the deluxe reissue treatment a few years back — is well worth getting hold of if you fancy expanding your collection beyond the MBV-Slowdive-Ride axis.

Lush — Spooky

Similarly, if you only know late-period, Britpop-influnced Lush, their early catalog is well worth investigating — it was very much dominated by epic, reverb-laden guitar sounds (largely because, as singer Emma Anderson later explained, “our idea was to have extremely loud guitars with much weaker vocals… and, really the vocals were weaker due to nervousness.”) Their dual-female-vocalists-and-dreamy-distortion sound has been xeroxed by at least one latter-day band, and the tragic suicide of drummer Chris Acland robbed the 1990s of a band that still seemed to have a great deal to offer.

M83 — Before the Dawn Heals Us

He’s all about Pitchfork pop these days, but Anthony Gonzalez’s early work definitely embraced the shoegazing aesthetic — we’re particularly fond of the luxuriant textures of early-career highlight Before the Dawn Heals Us, which is in roughly equal measures both beautiful and pretty damn psychedelic. If you’re looking for latter-day examples of shoegaze’s abiding influence, you can find a wealth of them in the songs on this album.

A Place to Bury Strangers — Exploding Head

And finally, if you’re gazing at your shoes when you see A Place to Bury Strangers live, it’s probably because your ears are hurting. The famously loud NYC three-piece is definitely inspired by many of the other bands we’ve looked at in this feature — most notably My Bloody Valentine, one of the few acts to rival them for sheer ear-bleeding volume — but their sound is fresh and contemporary enough to remain compelling.