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Welcome to the third article in a series titled "Music You Never Heard But Should Have." For this installment, I have selected not a particular band or album, but an entire genre of music. I know you might think it's a little unlikely that I could choose a whole music genre that most people have never even heard of...even more unlikely that if you never heard of it, you should have. But here it is...the genre of...



Shoegazer??? Yes, that's what it was called. I say "was" because most of the bands that made up the Shoegazer "movement" are no longer in existence. The Shoegazer era is generally considered to have begun in the late 1980's and to have ended around the mid-1990's. There are a few bands today that play essentially in the same style as the Shoegazer bands, but they are mostly classified in the genre of "Dream Pop," "Space Rock" or "Slowcore". Most fans believe the movement began in Britain, particularly in a part of North London called Camden Town. However, there were significant US bands at the time with the same style.

It is hard to accurately describe Shoegazer music, but in general, the style is defined by noisy, distorted guitars often recorded in layers, even incorporating feedback. The vocals are generally buried low in the mix, and lyrics are sometimes indecipherable. The vocals usually provide the melody line, and often play the role of another instrument, rather than focusing on lyrical content. The name "Shoegazer" seems to have been used to describe the way most of the bands played to an audience -- lost in the music, staring down (particularly guitarists, working with different effects pedals). The name is thought by some to have first been used in Britain's music magazine New Musical Express (or NME).

Shoegazer music was mostly influenced by two bands from the mid-80's: The Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Many point to the Cocteau Twins' 1982 release Garlands and the 1986 release Victorialand as prime Shoegazer influences. With the The Jesus and Mary Chain, their first LP, the classic Psychocandy released in 1985, was a prime influence.

The album that really seems to be considered the "landmark" Shoegazer record is the 1991 release Loveless by the group My Bloody Valentine. The album is still considered one of the the best records of the '90's. The British band RIDE's 1990 album Nowhere, which included the song Vapour Trail, is considered another Shoegazer classic. Lush's album Spooky (1994), Slowdive's Souvlaki (1994), The Boo Radley's Giant Steps (1993), and Chapterhouse's Whirlpool (1991) are all considered essential Shoegazer music. Other important bands that were considered part of the scene were Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver and Pale Saints.

Even The Verve, who broke into the US mainstream market in 1997 with the song Bittersweet Symphony, are considered to have evolved out of the Shoegazer era, particularly with their first LP A Storm In Heaven (1993). I have to admit, after hearing A Storm In Heaven, I could hardly believe that it was the same group that recorded the Urban Hymns CD that included Bittersweet Symphony. You can barely hear Richard Ashcroft's vocals over the distortion on A Storm In Heaven.

There are some groups still in existence today that would easily fall under the genre of Shoegazer. Groups such as Bethany Curve, Sigur Ros, Spritualized and Air all have distinct Shoegazing characteristics in their music.



"Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine (1991) - Considered a Shoegazer classic


Also See:

Volume I: Guadalcanal Diary

Volume II: Rockpile