10 Great Shoegaze Songs
We compile a list of 10 great Shoegaze tracks from the last 20 years—some obvious, some more obscure.
By no means is this list exhaustive. In the future, I might return with another 10 Great Shoegaze songs. Also, some of the entries in this list might offend certain purist sensibilities and get me branded a heretic.
So be it.
Slowdive “Souvlaki Space Station”
Slowdive’s “Souvlaki Space Station” is not only one of the great Shoegaze classics, but it stands as one of the greatest songs in recording history. I first heard it as a 17 year-old kid and swooned, then often got stoned to the song in college, watching my breath crystallize in the winter air.
And, in my estimation, it has one of the best 30 seconds of melodies and production ever created between 2:18 and roughly 2:48. It’s as if the song were rewinding from its original note. Perfection.
My Bloody Valentine “Off Your Face”
This cut from My Bloody Valentine might not be the one most cited by bands (that probably belongs to “Soon,” “Only Shallow” or any number of songs off LP “Isn’t Anything”), but for my money one of their greatest tracks is “Off Your Face.”
Belinda Butcher takes lead vocals on this track, which synthesizes the MBV wall of sound, mixes it with some jangly guitars, beautifully pulsating bass and Colm Ó Cíosóig’s trademark Motorik Beat meets Jon Bonham to create a totally melancholy and supremely beautiful composition.
The fade out from 2:15 to 4:16 with the chords, the bass and Butcher and Shields’ humming is easily one of my favorite pieces of music of all time, and never fails to leave me with goosebumps.
When I saw them at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in October of 2008, I was hoping they’d play the song. Alas, they never did, but it was one hell of a show regardless: like being strapped to a rocket that’s crashing into the sun. To take one’s earplugs out was to experience beautiful white noise that was too pure and unadulterated to withstand.
Ride “Dreams Burn Down”
Another example of a song first heard at the age of 17 and a perfect illustration of how Ride were certainly one of the most talented Shoegazers. They knew how to sculpt sound not only with guitars but with Loz Colbert’s drums, who in the band’s most explosive moments sounded as if he were going to break through the drum skins.
Witness the 2:15 mark of “Dreams Burn Down” when the song bursts into beautiful white noise.
M83 “Run Into Flowers”
M83‘s “Run Into Flowers” marked the emergence of a new emphasis within Shoegaze on synthesizers—though it certainly wasn’t the first time a Shoegaze band experimented with such equipment.
Anthony Gonzalez claimed he was more of a Mogwai fan, and one can see the influence in “Run Into Flowers.” But Gonzalez’s beautiful, softly-rendered vocals and the pop song arrangement in which they’re situated owe more to early ’90s Shoegaze than post-rock. Thought it’s difficult to make out what Gonzalez is singing, it’s generally agreed he’s saying “Give me peace and chemicals, I want to run into,” which is great imagery, of course.
Check out the Jackson Midnight Fuck remix as well as Doppelganger’s awesome mash-up that takes Jackson’s “Run Into Flowers” remix as its starting point and folds in Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker and Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It),” which Doppelganger’s aptly titled “Pussylicker.”
Seefeel “More Like Space”
Seefeel isn’t as widely known as they should be. Even so, they’ve found a place on Warp Records, which is one of the few labels out there that is a home for bands that routinely blur the boundaries between Shoegaze and IDM.
“More Like Space” contains a beautiful warbling drone atop subtle percussion, bass and snippets of disembodied vocals. Its sound points to the sort of thing Boards of Canada would later perfect on songs like “Dawn Chorus.”
Boards of Canada “Dawn Chorus”
This entry might get me in trouble with Shoegaze purists, but I’m willing to risk it because Boards of Canada doesn’t really belong to a genre and can thus be situated in unlikely places.
“Dawn Chorus” is one of the first syntheses of Shoegaze and the hip-hop beat. And with BoC’s rare interviews and even rarer admissions of equipment and recording methods, it’s likely that “Dawn Chorus” is more guitar and found-sound than synthesizer anyway, aligning it more with Kevin Shields’ recording of My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” than BoC’s fellow Warp artists.
Ulrich Schnauss “In All the Wrong Places”
I first came across Ulrich Schnauss in the fall of 2005 when I bought Morr Music’s Slowdive tribute album “Blue Skied An’ Clear,” which had a few Schnauss tracks—one an original, the other a cover.
Schnauss had been around for a while under various guises (Ethereal 77, View to the Future), but at that point he’d just released “A Strangely Isolated Place,” so that was the album that hit me. And hit me it did. The song that first caught my attention was “Clear Day,” which had a distinct Slowdive-esque sound to it. “Finally,” I thought,”Someone is doing a modified and modern version of Shoegaze and doing it well!”
Then, of course, I heard “In All the Wrong Places,” with all of its swirling and unlikely synth melodies flying across the field of sound like shooting stars and I was hooked (See: 5:15 mark for the segment in question). I actually got to sit down and talk to Schnauss after a show at Chicago’s Empty Bottle, and we talked about Shoegaze, Waldorf synthesizers—specifically, the use of Microwave XTk (which I own)—and about our mutual affinity for Casino vs. Japan.
This might be considered a bit heretical since Freescha hardly has as much name recognition as My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive, or even Ulrich Schnauss, but I consider “Moving” one of the finest tracks to grow out of the Shoegaze/IDM synthesis.
It’s not strictly Shoegaze, but it certainly has many of the hallmarks of the sound woven into a more experimental electronic music palette. Any fan of Ulrich Schnauss, Casino vs. Japan, or more recent variants such as Washed Out, would do well to listen to Freescha’s work, especially double LP “Head Warlock Double Stare.”
“Sing” is best remembered as the song that appears in “Trainspotting” after the baby has died and Sick Boy leads the gang on a spree of nihilistic crime. Lesser known perhaps is that it is Blur toying with the tropes of Shoegaze. It includes Damon Albarn’s syncopated piano playing and the infusion of Kinks-esque vocal melodies in the chorus. The song is awash in beauty and melancholy and should be remembered as a (relatively) forgotten Shoegaze classic.
Death in Vegas “Girls”
Another classic from a film soundtrack—in this case, “Lost in Translation.”
Death in Vegas normally aren’t so overtly Shoegaze, opting instead for the Teutonic flavors of Krautrock or psychedelic and electro. But with “Girls,” the duo took their sound straight into The Jesus & Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine territory, and in doing so made it their own.
From the very first guitar notes, cymbal washes, low but booming drums and radiating bass, one could tell that the song would build and build and release in some sublime way—which, of course, it does.