10 Best Shoegaze Albums
The genre known as shoegaze got its name from guitarists staring at their racks of effects pedals while performing onstage, and the sound associated with it is appropriately laden with guitar effects. By its most narrow definition, shoegaze encompasses a very specific era (the early ’90s), a limited geographic region (England) and only a handful of bands (My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Chapterhouse, et al), but we’re expanding on that for the purposes of this list: the 10 Best Shoegaze Albums.
We’re leaving out the bands that predated “true” shoegaze yet influenced the genre — from ’60s noiseniks the Velvet Underground through to the Jesus and Mary Chain, whose 1985 album ‘Psychocandy’ is an undeniable touchstone — but leaving in any groups that followed in the originals’ footsteps and still fly the shoegaze flag. That looser interpretation means that there are literally hundreds of albums up for consideration, but only a small portion of those can make it on our list of the 10 Best Shoegaze Albums. Check them out.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre have made quite a career out of aping their heroes — the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan, Pink Floyd — and their debut album, 1995’s ‘Methodrone,’ was no different. That is, except, for the fact that the entire disc is one long, majestic meditation on the entire shoegaze genre, with walls of feedback and psychedelic swells that run the gamut from proto-gazers the Jesus and Mary Chain to descendants Yo La Tengo.
Carrying the torch of shoegaze into the 21st century with enough moxy (and/or bashfulness?) to earn their neo-gazers tag, Norway’s Serena Maneesh update the sound by looking back. They dress like hippie gypsies, feature a dead ringer the Velvet’s Nico on bass and blow minds with a dynamic mix of fierce feedback and fallow melody that touches on classic rock as much as classic shoegaze.
‘Blonder Tongue Audio Baton’
The center of the shoegaze universe was, of course, England, but it wasn’t long before geographic outliers started cropping up. One of the bigger Stateside entries, Boston’s Swirlies offered a decidedly loud, loose and lo-fi approach to things on ‘Blonder Tongue Audio Baton,’ with undeniable pop vocal melodies hidden in plain sight under blankets of (yup!) swirling guitars, razor-wire distortion, looped samples and fill-heavy dance beats.
Both 1992’s ‘Spooky’ and 1996’s ‘Lovelife’ sold better, but Lush’s sophomore album found the perfect balance between the blissed-out experimentalism of the band’s debut and its more melodic and accessible swan song. But the real reason to include ‘Split': the gorgeous, sprawling and epic ‘Desire Lines,’ which, with a running time of seven-plus minutes, may be the longest slab of shoegaze to ever officially be released as a single.
‘In the Presence of Nothing’
Once aptly described as “amplified watercolors,” Lilys definitely wore their My Bloody Valentine influences on their sleeves on the 1992 debut album, ‘In the Presence of Nothing.’ Frontman Kurt Heasley would soon abandon his shoegaze muse, but over the course of these 10 tracks, everything comes together into one long, cohesive whole that definitely earns its place on our tally of the all-time 10 Best Shoegaze Albums.
Before singer Richard Ashcroft’s solo career, before the Verve’s breakthrough hit ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ or even before they had a “the” at the beginning of their name, Verve were a British quartet with a thing for wandering, trippy and reverb-drenched tunes that frequently pushed past the five-minute mark. Mandatory listen: ‘A Man Called Sun,’ an undeniable favorite of all respectable old-school Verve fans.
They only managed to release two studio albums over the course of their original run, but both Chapterhouse discs are considered shoegaze masterpieces. ‘Whirlpool’ finds its way onto our list of the 10 Best Shoegaze Albums, if only because it came first and helped sketch what would become the genre’s sonic blueprint. Also, it features the song ‘Pearl,’ which managed to peak in the Top 10 of what was then called the U.S. Modern Rock Tracks chart, probably the highest-charting shoegaze single of all time.
The album to land at third on our list of the Best Shoegaze Albums is a certified classic. Released in 1993 at what was considered the height of the genre, Slowdive’s ‘Souvlaki’ brought together all of the genre’s defining elements for one of the first times — from washed-out and woozy guitars to blurry, blotted-out vocals — but still sounds more phenomenal than anything that came after it. If you’re looking for an easy entry point into the world of shoegaze, ‘Souvlaki’ just may be it.
Ride’s 1990 debut album is nearly flawless from front to back, but nothing comes close to the brilliance of the disc’s final track, ‘Vapour Trail,’ which plays out as a sonic interpretation of its title. The British rockers branched out from shoegaze on later releases but definitely remain one of the genre’s all-time classic bands. ‘Nowhere’ remains their definitive disc.
Hands down the genre’s magnum opus, this is essential listening for anybody and everybody trying to wrap their minds around all things shoegaze. It’s all here: the ethereal melodies, the underwater vocals, the gorgeous droning, the squelching feedback. MBV mastermind Kevin Shields famously described his band as having a “fluff on the needle” sound, and really, no description is more apt. And oh yeah: ‘Loveless’ was blamed for nearly bankrupting the band’s label, Creation Records.