Inspired by the reunion of shoegaze greats Slowdive, Amoeblogger Brad Schelden and I have compiled our list of favorite shoegaze albums.
For any who don’t know, shoegaze is a style of music rooted in the noise pop of The Jesus & Mary Chain and dream pop of Cocteau Twins from the early ’80s. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, bands took elements put forth by those bands—loud, distorted guitars, heavily reverbed vocals and emphasis on atmosphere over discernable lyrics—and came up with a new sound, first truly realized by My Bloody Valentine on their classic 1988 album, Isn’t Anything. Shoegaze (or shoegazing) was a term NME and Melody Maker in the U.K. used to describe the visual representation of the sound from bands who rose in My Bloody Valentine’s wake, depicting bands’ apparent lack of movement onstage and propensity to stare down at their numerous effects pedals. The genre hit its heyday in the early ’90s but persists today, with bands like My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver reuniting and artists like M83 and Diiv using elements of their sound (so-called nu-gaze, but I’ll avoid that terrible term). So with that lengthy explanation, here we go.
This week organizers at the big annual Primavera Sound Festival, that happens every late May/early June in Barcelona Spain, announced this year's line-up with some impressive headliners at the multi-stages event that is traditionally rock oriented with some dance and hip-hop with this year featuring a bit more than in past.
One of our favorite modern bands,Vivian Girls, are officially breaking up. They'll play two last shows, one of them here in L.A. at Highland Park's new Church on York venue, on Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. You can get tickets here. Or if you're in New York, you can see them at Death by Audio March 1; tickets for that show are here. Both shows are all-ages.
I made this Vivian Girls Family Tree a while back to note the myriad other projects that spring from the band. As far as the members of the band go, Cassie Ramone will continue with The Babies, along with Woods' Kevin Morby; Katy Goodman will have a new La Sera album out later this year; and Ali Koehler continues with her new band, Upset. You can read interviews I've done with Goodman and Upset.
1993 and 1994 are probably two of my favorite years of the 90s. These were the best years of Britpop. Some amazing years for British music. Suede, Blur, Pulp, & The Verve all had amazing albums out these years. I had always been into British music since I remember ever being into music. New Wave & Goth in the 80s. And now Shoegaze & Britpop in the early and mid 90s. I gave myself a couple of rules when making these lists for the top ten of each year. I made sure to only pick one album for each artist. I didn't want the list to be a Blur and Suede album every year. So I picked my favorite album from each of those artists. And for the most part my favorite album was the album that introduced me to the band. Not necessarily the bands first album. But my first album by that band. The album that I think of when I think of that band. There are three American bands on my list this year. Still outnumbered by the British bands of course. I had for the most part stopped listening to the radio in 1993. Most of the bands I found out about were from 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation. I was also heavily influenced by my friends and roommates in 1993. This was the first year that I heard Suede, Slowdive & The Verve. I think I probably saw a Suede video when I heard them for the first time. I was hooked within the first couple seconds of the video. This was the band for me. I couldn't get enough of them throughout the rest of the 90s. I was already familiar with Blur but 1993 was really the first year that I really got obsessed with them. Saint Etienne and Catherine Wheel were probably the albums that I listened to most this year. Where You Been by Dinosaur Jr. & Star by Belly just barely didn't make my top ten this year. They were also both listened to a lot by me in 93 and 94. Here it is...my top 10 albums of 1993...
The first time I heard Highland Park's Seasons was a song called “Light, Lost,” from their Winter EP, released in June 2010. I was immediately taken with its languid guitar-work and gorgeous melodies, not to mention the way the song takes a sharp left near the end and picks up into an indie-dance gem — sucker for tempo changes, right here.
But what really gets me about Seasons is the passion they clearly put into each song. Through their three released “season” EPs — Spring, Summer, Winterand Autumn, the last one just released this month — Seasons aren’t afraid to change things up sonically or thematically. So what you get is a landscape painting of a band across its releases rather than a portrait. Though overall I might classify the music as epic spacefaring rock of the variety you don’t see too often these days — Slowdive, Smashing Pumpkins and, more recently, The Arcade Fire come to mind — there’s also a strong twee vibe running throughout, echoing Sarah Records and C86 bands, not to mention an electro streak that keeps things vibrant.
The band consists of longtime friends who like to go by their first names — John sings and plays guitar and keys; Nik does the same; Adam plays bass and guitar; Erik plays drums; Ray handles beats, keys and bass; and Kaitlin, violin and vocals. During the day, these people occupy such various jobs as teacher, florist, Trader Joe’s team member and Grammy Museum usher.
In the summer of 2006, they came up with the idea to do a set of EPs each with a mood to set the tone for feelings that arise during a particular season.
“We let the climate changes and the way people and ourselves reacted to each season inspire us to write each one, with the intention of releasing them when we were finished even if they season they were written in was over,” John explains.
The Autumn EP begins with “Monday Night” (available as a free download), a lighthearted danceable ode to getting up and out at the beginning of the work week — which, by the way, you should do tonight and/or next Monday to see the band play at the Echo as part of its January residency. The EP continues with the strings-and-bells laden yet hard-charging “These United States,” which nicely features singer Nik's growling, yearning vocals. The EP’s closer, “Lazy Bones,” is sort of meat-and-potatoes Seasons, a six-minute-plus psychedelic heart-on-sleeve power ballad. Meanwhile, “Number of the Beat” is their most outward flirtation with dance music thus far, although its striking violin playing still lands it firmly in orchestral pop territory.