This feature originally ran in November 2014 and is being re-published to celebrate Slowdive’s top-rated comeback album.
By now, we’ve pretty much seen the return of every notorious shoegaze outfit. My Bloody Valentine finally followed up 1991’s Loveless with their exceptional self-titled album back in 2013. The Jesus and Mary Chain never leave the road — and for good reason. Ride, Swervedriver, Lush, and Slowdive have all come and gone with impressive results. Needless to say, it’s a great time to be a sad guy with a loud amp. You won’t hear this writer complaining.
But now what? Even if you got tickets to every one of their shows, there’s no denying the addiction to shiny Jazzmasters and swimming pool-sized pedal boards. And although your ears could use some rest, you’re in luck: there’s more. Ahead, take a listen to some of the lesser known bands, both new and old, of the Scene That Celebrates Itself and find yourself a new favorite obscure band to impress your friends with the next time they’re going on about Catherine Wheel.
Having released their debut full-length in 2014 on Wichita Recordings, London-based Cheatahs is the newest band on this list. They’re from the heavier, more athletic Swervedriver school of shoegaze (as opposed to the dreamy pop of Lush or swirling soundscapes of MBV) but don’t flirt too much with the alt-rock that would eventually do in their forbearers by 99th Dream. Their 2015 sophomore album, Mythologies, continued the band’s aggressive, noisy, ethereal sounds that they had been perfecting while touring across Europe and the States.
Alright, so maybe you’ve heard of Cheatahs. They did one of those A.V. Undercover sessions, after all. It’s a lot less likely you’re putting some Stella Luna on your turntable when you want to bliss out. Mostly due to the fact that their only release to date is 2002’s Stargazer, released only as a CD maxi-single. And damn if that ain’t a shame. The album’s brilliant 26 minutes are filled with beautiful melodies that shimmer on the surface of tides of distortion and reverb-drenched, gunshot drums. It’s gorgeous and a crime that they didn’t give us more to enjoy.
One of the earliest bands in the London scene to be labeled (at the time, derogatorily) as “shoegazers,” Moose released a handful of EPs in 1991 on Hut Recordings that would help define the sound of an era with walls of buzz-saw guitars and low, lazy vocals. Despite keeping at it until 2000, they never quite found the success of their peers, though the influences of their roots remained alive and well throughout their career.
Part of the Mexican Summer stable of modern shoegaze bands like Tamaryn and Beaches, No Joy give us the answer to a question we never even thought to ask: “What does shoegaze sound like when it runs headlong into punk?” The two genres seem so diametrically opposed — one built on expansive, blissed-out waves of sound, the other all about snarl and efficiency — but No Joy manages the marriage well, with a shuddering, halting take on the sound that makes most sweaty garage rock bands look lazy in comparison.
Heading back to the heyday of the genre, Venus Beads saw two full-length records come out in 1991 on Emergo before disappearing back into obscurity and calling it quits by 1994. Their biggest single, “Moon Is Red”, anchored the brilliant Incision, with its jangly, driving pop colored by the slightest touches of unexpected darkness, sounding quite a bit like Ride’s Going Blank Again a full year before that would be released. Unlike most records in the genre, singer Rob Jones’ vocals aren’t hidden under layers of reverb — they’re brash and immediate, with an Echo & The Bunnymen vibe at times.
The Black Ryder
Though technically just a singer-songwriter duo, Australia’s The Black Ryder make up their live band with guest artists from bands like Brian Jonestown Massacre, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Swervedriver. Their debut album, Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride, wanders from bending shoegaze riffage to thumping stoner rock reminiscent of The Black Angels. The standout track is the album’s opener, “To Never Know You”, which sounds just as much like a My Bloody Valentine track as its name would suggest.
A little further down the stoner rock side of the spectrum is Dallas, TX, trio True Widow. Their combination of fuzzed out, almost sludgy music and ethereal dual male and female vocals makes them something extra special that falls just outside of the typical shoegaze sound. The suitably epic title of their 2011 record (As High as the Highest Heavens and from the Center to the Circumference of the Earth) begets some of their more metallic leanings, but the music is equal parts crushing and delicate and pairs well with a nice, dry red wine and some Cocteau Twins.
Soundpool’s first two records, 2006’s On High and 2008’s Dichotomies & Dreamland, are of a far more traditional shoegaze ilk, with layers of synths, guitars, and gorgeous female vocals soaring throughout. The albums are lush in their production, giving you the space to enjoy the nuances of every sound as it washes over you. Just don’t touch their third record, 2010’s Mirrors in Your Eyes, where the New York City quintet decided to experiment with space-disco. Shudder.
They’re not going to win any Best Band Name Awards; that’s for sure. But what Tokyo Shoegazer lack in a name, they more than make up for in their music. Part of a Japanese subset of modern shoegaze that includes bands like Kinoko Teikoku and Purple Bloom, Tokyo Shoegazer stands head and shoulders above the rest, nailing the noisy sounds of My Bloody Valentine, even being featured alongside Shonen Knife and Boris on the (vaguely racist?) tribute album Yellow Loveless.