Chasing Sundays: Oct. 2019
Posted: by The Editor
Chasing Sundays is Eli Enis’ bi-monthly deep-dive into vast the world of shoegaze. From its celestial pop outer-edges to its overwhelmingly heavy inner-core, these are some of the most valuable inclusions to the global shoegaze canon.
I’ve always been someone who likes loud, heavy, full-sounding music that knocks me off my chair. But I also love pretty music. I love melodies, I love synthesizers that sparkle, and I love guitar tones that have a palpable physicality; as if I could touch them if I just reach deep enough into my headphones. I’m also a sonics-first person; I connect with the sound of a piece of music long before I connect with its lyrics. And shoegaze is a genre in which the lyrics are often indecipherable and usually secondary to the composition itself. Therefore, if scientists were to try and incubate a genre in a lab that was meant to serve all of my listening needs and desires, it would probably sound like a shoegaze band. Specifically the 2014 song “Guilty of Everything” by the Philadelphia quartet Nothing, of which the title of this column is derived from.
I find it marvelous that a song like “Guilty of Everything,” for example, is at once grandiose, titanic, rattling, and crushing, but also serene, beautiful, and unusually soothing. Shoegaze music has the body of a hurricane but it hits your face like a cool summer breeze. That something so big and ostensibly menacing and cacophonous can be molded into something so gorgeous and radiant and emotional is incredible to me. It’s a musical paradox that I find it endlessly intriguing.
Although shoegaze has been around for 30 years now, and some of the most influential and highly-regarded rock groups of that time period are shoegaze bands, I find that the contemporary crop of shoegaze acts, like many rock subgenres, is criminally underreported on. I find it difficult to keep up with all of the great new shoegaze projects that’re dropping every month, let alone the projects that have slipped through my fingertips over the last decade and counting. I realized I needed a dedicated space to record my findings as I continue to travel down the monumental shoegaze rabbithole, so this column will fill that void.
The guidelines are simple: all of this music is stuff that I’ve discovered through ~digital crate-digging~, recommendations from friends/colleagues, and by combing through my overflowing press release inbox. I won’t be taking requests for coverage (sorry PR friends) and I won’t be using this for premieres. It’s simply a place for me to unload some of the shit I love in a relatively informal setting and at my own pace.
Here’re some of my favorite shoegaze projects that I heard within the last few months. Some of these albums are a couple years old and some of them dropped a few days before this piece went live. All of them are worth your time for various reasons.
I can think of, like, six active bands right now that contain the word “blush” somewhere in their name, so it’s incredibly challenging to keep them all straight. This band called Blushing is a four-piece from Austin, TX that’s comprised of two married couples. So that’s a pretty easy identifier? This S/T record from September is a nice offering of airy, Slowdive-esque melodies and big streaky guitar leads. There’s a little bit of a Cocteau Twins thing going on with the dreamy singing and there are actually some clean breaks that are more goth-rock than shoegaze. But the songs always reign in the fuzz by their final third and end in some sort of ceremonious climax. A classic European shoegaze sound that never falls into bland imitation.
By the end of their three-album run, Infinity Girl were (RIP) a grungy alt-rock band who embalmed their guitars in reverb and then buried them in a sarcophagus of distortion. Their breathtaking 2017 swan song, Somewhere Nice, Someday is shoegaze more in form than function. Beneath the fuzz and MBV-indebted whammy pulls are colorful indie-rock songs with taut grooves, strong melodies, and complex arrangements that could feasibly stand without the warbling shoegaze effects. It’s incredibly admirable, then, for a band with this level of unadulterated songwriting prowess to douse their tunes in syrupy reverb, transforming them from great rock songs to even greater (though arguably less accessible) shoegaze songs. Let yourself bask in this shit.
The debut from Michigan’s Minihorse is a shoegaze album about dealing with tinnitus and misophonia, which is a disorder that causes extreme sensitivity to specific noises. The project is led by Ypsilanti jack-of-all-trades Ben Collins, and his earnest meta-ness is incredibly clever. As the tracklist progresses, the songs actually get quieter and sparser as the subject matter zooms in on the devastating effects of blowing your ears out by listening to your own art. It’s a wild concept and the music happens to be really fucking good, melodic, textural shoegaze.
You’ve gotta have some serious chutzpah to give your beastly shoegaze album with blurry reddish cover art a one-word title that begins with the word “love.” Lucky for them, Tennis System own it on their long-awaited fourth record, melding Nothing-size climaxes with pop-driven hooks that strangely pull from alt-metal as much as they do grunge. Unfortunately, the actual vocal delivery on here can verge on unbearable. The lead singer strains his flat, nasally inflection to hit notes he simply can’t, and it can be admittedly distracting at times. Fortunately, the balls-to-the-walls drumming and driving-off-a-cliff intensity of the riffs make up for some of the vocal low-points. The production is phenomenal and the songs are fuckin’ pulverizers.
Blankenberge not only score points for the most aesthetically pleasing album cover on this list, but for the album that makes me the happiest to hear. Whereas shoegaze often (but not always) encompasses a bleak, stormy, or at the very least somewhat poignant mood, the sophomore release from this Russian group has an uplifting pep to it. Their sound is a fascinating blend of shimmering post-rock, rhythmic dream-pop and unexpectedly surging shoegaze. The production is insanely crisp, the arrangements are wonderfully vast and open, and the songs dash forward instead of tug backward, as many records of this sonic scale often do. This is an absolute stunner.
Reve Bleu are a Vancouver-by-Brazil duo who blend ambient, sky-coating shoegaze with trip-hop beats and IDM electronic components. This record they put out in late August kind of falls off during its back-half, but the first few tracks are a really great run of O.G. Swervedriver leads, psychedelic vocals, and hypnotic drumming that’s atypical of most shoegaze groups. It’s got a very late ‘90s/early 2000’s trip-hop vibe to it that I can’t quite place, but I feel would pair surprisingly well in a mix of DJ Shadow and Massive Attack.
Grow Rich’s throttling basslines, metallic drums, and dizzying tumbles into noise-rock make Frantic & Semantic feel like it’s gonna get a lot heavier and blackgazier than it actually does. Oddly enough, the straightforward melodies are delivered with a pop-punky vocal inflection and many of the chords are surprisingly joyous despite the dense, crunchy tones they’re being translated through. The mesh of cranked drums (including some double-bass savagery) and grunge-pop melodies are…weird, but somehow never clumsy.
This new EP from the L.A. band Fime is one of the best things to land in my inbox this fall. Apparently the band lives with Melina Duterte (Jay Som) and this record was actually produced by Duterte in their house. You wouldn’t necessarily guess that by hearing it, as the first track is an energetic scrum of fanged indie-rock leads, pummeling drums, and some totally washed-out vocals; all of which collide by its end into a positively epic wreck of shoegaze and snappy indie-rock. There are some songs on here that are more indie-rock a la Great Grandpa than straight-up shoegaze, but all of them are propped up by reverbed guitars and when a climax happens, it’s gazey as hell. Either way, it’s a delightfully promising EP.
I’d be remiss not to include the long-awaited third full-length from Brooklyn’s DIIV in this round-up. I’ll be honest: I never liked DIIV all that much. When they were blowing up from their debut in the early 2010’s, I was obliviously invested in a completely different corner of the music universe, and my repeat attempts to catch up with them over the last few years have always left me wanting more. Although they were always presented to me as a shoegaze band, I always thought they sounded like a too-dismal dream-pop band or a too-effervescent post-punk group. This new record, however, is my utter shit. Opener “Horsehead” is a glass-shattering cannonball of shoegaze, an astoundingly powerful tune that’s an instant contender for SOTY (across all categories). Other tracks like “Taker” and the tense landmine-of-a-closer, “Acheron,” are similarly gargantuan, but even the bevy of straightforwardly melodic slow-burners on here are terrific. Being won over by a band can sometimes be as rewarding as finding a new one altogether.
Eli Enis | @eli_enis
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