Photo by Daniel Stephens.
Was white noise invented for the winter? I can’t think of a better way to keep warm. If the sky is falling in small white chunks of refrigerated ash, I need a guitar and a drum machine seething through a few phaser pedals to help celebrate it. Not that New York City is experiencing serious winter temperatures, but at the very least it’s getting a bit nippy out. In my mid-December avoidance of most things Christmas, my iPod is usually carrying a pretty hefty playlist of shoegaze.
Sometimes I wonder if this is because I was born during a blizzard, but in my experience in meeting shoegaze lovers (…in college), they really know no season. So if you’re living in the mid-west right now and are completely buried in snow then for starters, you have a sliver of my envy. Secondly, here’s a brief shoegazing playlist to help you enjoy what the season has to offer.
A merry Christmas Eve to all the fair Christians out there as well!
1. “Half Life” — Pale Saints
“Half Life” marks a strange moment for shoegaze but still makes a great introduction to the genre. The Pale Saints were already one album in before adding Meriel Barham of Lush (who we’ll be hearing from later) as guitarist and vocalist to their lineup and cutting this song. “Superband” is too strong a word, but one-off collaboration also seems to soft. “Half Life” is a nice moment of camaraderie from about the scene that so “celebrated itself.”
2. “Windstorm” – School of Seven Bells
School of Seven Bells were on a roll when I first started at BTR in 2010, but were suddenly derailed when one of their members suddenly quit mid-tour that year. The record they put out just a few months before, Disconnect from Desire, was a testament to the chemistry of the original lineup, blending the soaring femme fatale vocals of older bands like Lush with updated decorations.
3. “In a Different Place” – Ride
Ride’s debut EP is a classic of the genre, and this centerpiece track is a big reason why. As many upbeat, guitar driven songs comprise this mix, “In a Different Place” makes balladry the prize form of the genre. I like this one especially if I’m waking up to a snow day, since I’ve arrived… well, just listen to that coda.
4. “Scarlet” – Lush
Everything I love about shoegaze is right here – a light, treble-heavy bass, guitars jangling into the atmosphere, and a high soprano whose consonants I can’t even hear. Lush would be one of the first bands branded by the press with the shoegaze title. They’d later make a less than suttle shift into Britpop with singles like “Hypocrite” and “For Love,” the video for the latter, I’d argue, invented Gwen Stefani. Just kidding.
5. “To Here Knows When” – My Bloody Valentine
What shoegaze list would be complete without a track from My Bloody Valentine’s seminal 1991 release, Loveless? One trying real hard to be cool. “To Here Knows When” defines snowblind with its guitars morphed beyond simple explanation, transcending the tone and timbre of the instrument over a delicately distorted melody. It’s hard going on from here without stepping on what someone far more important has said about Loveless with longer word limits. That doesn’t make any of its best tracks any less brilliant.
6. “Boy” – Moose
Moose comes way too late on this mix, but I promise it’s only because they lost a simple game of musical chairs. “Boy” is a signature track for the band as well as the brand, and a good warm up after the chill of “To Here Knows When.” If “In a Different Place” is quintessential shoegaze balladry, “Boy” comes as close as anyone in the form could to an upbeat hit. At a rolling pace, packing pulsating guitar leads, you can find the fruits of “Boy” in Loveless tracks like “When You Sleep.”
7. “The Living End” – The Jesus and Mary Chain
Fine if they’re not a real shoegaze band but enough of an influence to make this mix. 1985’s Psychocandy is best remembered by its ballads (and the Bill Murray movies they star in), which is such a shame because its rockers are especially blissful. “The Living End” in particular I find to be the hardest hitting. Also check out “Rollercoaster” off of 1992’s Honey’s Dead.
8. “Waiting” — Monster Movie
Since we took the last one from a prominent influence of shoegaze, I’d also venture to say that taking a track from a sideproject that succeeded one of the biggest artists of the genre is also within bounds. “Waiting” by Monster Movie justifies the argument – as soon as the vocals kick in, the delivery morphs into vintage, turn of the ’90s shoegaze oozes from the dream pop that would rise from it. Plus it adds a nice flavor to the rest the arrangement.
9. “Summer Holiday” – Wild Nothing
I pick this song in spite of its title. If Wild Nothing fill no greater purpose, they sound like that long lost band tying shoegaze to the Smiths, the way Modern Lovers tied the Velvets to ’70s punk. Their first record, Gemini, had that perfect first album execution – rough around its edges enough to blur the lines between intriguing mystery and that part of themselves they have yet to fully invent. The follow-up, Nocturne, featured some generous garnishing in the way of orchestrations over the same basic formula. They can get away with the “if it ain’t broken, why fix it?” routine.
10. “I Can See It But I Can’t Feel It” – My Bloody Valentine
It makes sense to end with a MBV song. I’m sure leaving off “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside)” seems criminal, but that’s really only based on the title. The song itself doesn’t lend itself to the groups more bleached material, so to speak. “I Can See It But I Can’t Feel It,” the closer to the band’s debut release, Isn’t Anything, is my favorite song by the group. With the boorish howl of off-tuned strings and prodding chords, I get an instant mental image of being trapped in a frozen bunker no matter what the weather is outside.
So if the whether outside is frightful, don’t you want music to match? Happy holidays, everyone.