Critical 5: American Shoegaze
Woefully underrated albums from the US.
Shoegaze's most obvious progenitors, Cocteau Twins and the Jesus and Mary Chain, hailed from Scotland, and the genre's unrivaled masterpiece, My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, was a product of Ireland. Most of the movement's other respected artists were based in the UK, as were key labels like Creation and 4AD. In short, shoegaze isn't really closely associated with America, despite healthy early ‘90s scenes in Boston, Washington, D.C. and Arizona. Here, we'd like to highlight some of finest U.S. albums from the original shoegazing era. Spotify listeners can hear more at Critical 5: Classic American Shoegaze.
Lilys - In the Presence of Nothing (1992)
Lilys never have been much of a band. In fact, each new Lilys' outing is really just a product of singer-songwriter's Kurt Heasley's current musical obsessions, and the band's constantly shifting lineup is typically rounded out by whoever can best help him achieve his intended sound. Heasley's debut LP, In the Presence of Nothing, is his only full-length foray into shoegaze. Though it was released during the movement's peak, Presence takes an almost post-modern approach to the genre, as Lilys pillage choice bits from just about any worthwhile shoegaze release of the era you could name, with the specter of Kevin Shields front and center. You might call Heasley a plagiarist, outsider, chameleon, whatever - but it would be tough to call his first album anything but a prime shoegazing document.
Swirlies - Blonder Tongue Audio Baton (1993)
With the careening energy of rabid kindergarteners, Boston's Swirlies bobbed and weaved between the boy-girl vocal merry-go-rounds of K Records bands, Sonic Youth's bratty dissonance and Slowdive's skyward thrust. But somehow, Swirlies' seemingly at-odds reference points work as a sort of checks and balances system; the thornier aspects keep things from getting overly cute, the gray atmospherics provide a sense of genuine melancholy and the band's pop leanings ensure that Blonder isn't so feather-light that it simply billows away. Messily vibrant, the album is like an amplified finger-painting depicting everything that was great about indie rock in 1993.
Should - A Folding Sieve (1993)
Should is, rather miraculously, a shoegaze trio that makes excellent use of negative space. The music on the Austin band's A Folding Sieve tends to well up out of arid, dust-blown near-silent stretches, as mirage-like swells of guitar gradually coalesce into skeletally pure songs. Despite the hallucinatory slowness of Should's tempos and the many narcotic/narcoleptic quirks, A Folding Sieve is nothing short of pop lucidity.
Lovesliescrushing - Bloweyelashwish (1994)
Sounds that people commonly, mistakenly think they hear in My Bloody Valentine's songs, despite the fact that Kevin Shields' primary tools were guitars, Bilinda Butcher's voice and, depending on whom you ask, the majority of Creation Records' finances: flutes ("To Here Knows When"), bagpipes/elephants ("Swallow"), keyboards/love-struck whales (take your pick). Sounds that people could easily, mistakenly think they hear in lovesliescrushing's song's songs, despite the fact that Scott Cortez's primary tools were guitar, Melissa Arpin-Duimstra's voice and a run-of-the-mill 4-track recorder: keyboards (take your pick), harp ("Plume"), a field recording taken from inside an erupting geyser ("Dizzy"), a transmission from benign aliens ("Babysbreath") and whatever notes might emanate from the inner workings of a twisting kaleidoscope ("Burst," "Charm").
Half String - Eclipse Oval Hue (1995)
These Arizonians had a lot going against them. For starters, there's a certain stigma that follows Yanks who sound like they're from the UK, and from Brandon Capps' wispy, nearly faux-accented vocals to the band's clear Britpop indebtedness, Half String are easily the most "English" band on this list. Worse, they confined their best songs to non-album efforts, and perhaps most damningly, their sole full-length album, A Fascination With Heights, was released in 1996: too early to be considered revivalism and too late to ride the crest of shoegaze's first wave. Yet the material collected on the compilation Eclipse Oval Hue (taken from 3 EPs recorded in the early ‘90s) stands comfortably in line with the likes of Moose, the Boo Radleys and Ride for its seamless blending of vulnerable ‘80s guitar pop and fuzz/reverb/delay-warped textures.