Friday, May 18, 2018

Shoegaze

Dreamy. Definition enough. Urban Dictionary adds: A style of music that emerged in England in the late 80s featuring blisteringly loud and dreamily reverberated feedback, recently revived by electronic bands like M83 and Ulrich Schnauss. Pinning it down: psychedelic, drug induced euphoria, trippy; indeed, dreamy, definition enough. The argument arises: who defines the genre best? For this writer, Cocteau Twins. For others, My Bloody Valentine, This Mortal Coil, Lush. Oh, and the name itself? Artists staring at their shoes.

Suffused with swirling, disorienting, blearily processed guitar, the style coalesced from a cloud of influences in the 80s (in particular the Cocteau Twins' first release in 1984, Treasure (AM7), alongside the 4AD project, This Mortal Coil) when My Bloody Valentine released its game-changing album Isn't Anything (AM6). Imperviously heavy and sweetly melodic, it quickly inspired a glut of soundalikes—although there were other random antecedents. Drawing on atmospheric post-punk and droning psychedelia, Shoegaze received an extra boost of inspiration from the U.S. underground scene, most notably big-guitar groups like Hüsker Dü and Sonic Youth. Shoegaze rose in a parallel arc to the similarly trippy Madchester sound, but where Madchester was outgoing, Shoegaze was introverted (once again the name, originally meant as a derogatory term referring to the scene's notoriously shy stage presence). After reaching its apotheosis with My Bloody Valentine's 1991 masterpiece, Loveless, Shoegaze petered out, but not with regard to influence (once again the hipster/college ideology comes into play; Shoegaze today is a hipster thing, the kind of music they'd play in the background if Portland, Oregon was a movie).

The gold standard of Shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless (AM8) is overshadowed by its own towering reputation (that happens). Set aside the story of its long, legendary creation and numerous innovations and iterations, and what's left is a batch of dreamy, beautiful pop that gets lost in the hyperbole. It's true that mastermind Kevin Shields spent years painstakingly perfecting the album in the studio, and that the sampling and recording techniques he used changed guitar rock forever, but Loveless, gorgeous as it is, stands as more a frozen moment than the beginning of an epoch.