Saturday, January 14, 2017

10 Best Shoegazer Albums (From NME)

It's arguable of some of these albums listed upon here.  But I look at this with suspicion.
In the early 1990s, the UK brought us something with lots of feedback laden guitar and softspoken vocals, usually from the female side of things.  But I don't think the New Music Express did a throughout  job in compiling this ten best of.  First of all, they give too much credit to Slowdive, which I heard two albums and got bored to death with.

Here's what NME went with.

  1. Slowdive – ‘Just For A Day’ (1991)

It sounds crazy now, but in 1991 you’d have been laughed out of any student bar in the country for liking Slowdive. ‘Just For A Day’ was considered the epitome of drippy, empty, anaemic home counties mithering, made specifically for bedwetters, virgins and vegans who were too scared to be goths. Now, twenty-five years after it made Richey Manic declare that he hated Slowdive more than Hitler, its recognised as the slab of ghost-ridden gorgeousness it always was. Taking cues as much from The Cure and The Cocteau Twins as much as contemporaries like Chapterhouse and Ride, it merged glacial indie atmospherics with Celtic mysticism, canyon balladry and opiated melodies like ‘The Sadman’. Perfect for sinking sweetly into an overdose.

  1. The Verve – ‘A Storm In Heaven’ (1993)

Back when ‘Urban Hymns’ was merely their accountant’s wildest fantasy, Richard Ashcroft piloted a space rock behemoth called simply ‘Verve’ and ‘A Strom In Heaven’ was their impression of a brimstone blues wrecking ball demolishing the sonic cathedral. Rather than spectral sonic echoes, this was music caught in intergalactic winds, roaring through wormholes and battering at God’s windows. If shoegaze ever looked up, ripped open its shirt and howled into approaching traffic, it was here.

  1. The Radio Dept. – ‘Lesser Matters’ (2003)

With nods to Nothing, A Place To Bury Strangers, early M83, Deerhunter, Blond Redhead and Cheatahs, the nu-gaze revival deserves its own separate list. But arguably the record that kicked (or should that be ‘shuffled’?) the revival off, ‘Lesser Matters’ – the debut from Swedish fuzz fondlers The Radio Dept. – remains one of the few next-gen shoegaze records capable of holding its own amongst the lexicon of wobbly greats. Swapping copious scree pedals for touches of electronica, it remapped shoegazing’s sonic otherworld for the 21st Century by sounding like the sort of electro gig that, previously, only Derek Acorah could hear.

  1. The Boo Radleys – ‘Everything’s Alright Forever’ (1992)

The Boo Radleys’ acknowledged masterpiece – 1993’s ‘Giant Steps’, containing the decade-demolishing ‘Lazarus’ – was too much of a shift towards their mid-90s psych-pop incarnation to be allowed to do its dubby skank along shoegaze’s top table. That record belongs in Albums Of The Decade lists, whereas their previous record ‘Everything’s Alright Forever’ was perfectly placed to encapsulate the full shoegaze vista, from the fouled beauty of ‘Loveless’ to the oceanic swells of ‘Nowhere’ and the scorched grunge of early Teenage Fanclub. Plus, Martin Carr’s blood pumped with the Merseyside gene, so ‘Everything’s Alright Forever’ swarmed with the sort of half-buried pop melodies that many shoegaze bands lost in the gaps between their effects pedals.

  1. Ride – ‘Going Blank Again’ (1992)

As if Ride heard ‘Loveless’ and knew the game was up in terms of screwing around with the possibilities of guitar, then watched Newman And Baddiel mock them as dozy dullards on The Mary Whitehouse Experience and realised they needed to be less wet and wafty, for their second album scene pioneers Ride simply turned the volume up to ‘Gas Giant’ and set about writing some of the most gargantuan funk, rock and pop tunes of the 90s. ‘Twistarella’ – their own ‘Friday I’m In Love’ – and ‘Leave Them All Behind’ propelled shoegazing into a grander melodic sphere, while ‘OX4’ was reportedly classified as a planet in its own right by NASA, until the drugs wore off.

  1. Ride – ‘Nowhere’ (1990)

Ride’s debut, of course, set the shoe blueprint: warping squalls of guitar, post-baggy psychedelia and blank vocal harmonies muffled by fringe. From the frenetic opening ‘Seagull’, akin to an utterly emotionless ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, ‘Nowhere’ expanded into hitherto uncharted oceans of sound, such as when ‘Polar Bear’ reimagines Bowie’s ‘”Heroes”’ as an ever-looping acid trip about flying girlfriends. Startling on first release, the vitality to ‘Nowhere’ transcends the shoegaze clich√© to this day.

  1. My Bloody Valentine – ‘Isn’t Anything’ (1988)

If ‘Nowhere’ was the shoegaze blueprint, ‘Isn’t Anything’ was its Big Bang. Crushing the core influences of The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cure, The Cocteau Twins, Sonic Youth, Spacemen 3, The Velvet Underground and Wire into a white hot ball of weird, Kevin Shields fused a new form of musical plasma that splattered messily across My Bloody Valentine’s full-length debut in its unrefined form. Tenderised, elastic guitar notes bent around gloriously awkward pop tunes prone to bouts of sudden manic punk thrashing and twisting-in-bedsheets narcolepsy. It was the 80s indie version of Picasso chucking his entire palette against the wall and going “copy that”.

  1. Slowdive – ‘Souvlaki’ (1993)

The 21st Century rehabilitation of Slowdive’s reputation is largely down to the lingering echoes from their second album ‘Souvlaki’. Criminally ridiculed in 1993 amid the Britpop fanfare, for over twenty years it hung around like a rather lovely smell until today it’s seen as the defining statement of this self-celebratory scene thanks to Neil Halstead’s desolate lyrics – he’d recently split from singer Rachel Goswell – and lustrous tunes like ‘Machine Gun’ sounding less lost in the (p)haze. Sessions with Brian Eno also inspired songwriter Halstead to discover dub, ambient and Aphex Twin albums, helping him do the impossible – give mist an edge.

  1. Spiritualized – ‘Lazer Guided Melodies’ (1992)

As a root influence on the movement with Spacemen 3, Jason Pierce was surfing the solar winds long before shoegazing came along. So his first album with Spiritualized, while only distantly connected to the scene, showed all of these home counties wannabes how to study their sneakers in style. Narcotic dream-pop and intergalactic rock drifted across this double disc like celestial bodies waltzing. If Kubrick rocked…

  1. My Bloody Valentine – ‘Loveless’ (1991)

The daddy. While everyone else had their head down trying to fathom out the monstrous sounds MBV had gifted them, Kevin Shields was busy making them all redundant. Okay, so it took him three years, an army of engineers, 19 studios, most of Alan McGee’s bank account and enough weed to kill a Kraken, but he emerged with a record of such inventive, heart-twisting beauty and violence that it remains unmatched in experimental guitar music to this day. Sampled feedback, bending chords, melodies like sunbursts, tectonic shifts, tsunamis and apocalypses; the revelation of ‘Loveless’ was that it’s beauty came from sounding how music simply shouldn’t – this writer recalls playing it to a couple of record producers who both lay on the floor hyperventilating when they realised my stereo wasn’t broken. ‘Loveless’ may have killed off shoegaze, but it’s also the reason it’s alive today.
Now that you read this far. I tend to disagree with the Souviaki, the snooze fest  and anything Spiritzalized as well.   Crabby's Picks of Top Shoegazer albums are (in particular order since numbering them 1 to 10 is pointless and my taste changes every time out.

The Catherine Wheel-Ferment (Fontana 1992)

Before they deteriorated into alternative pop metal, Rob Dickinson managed to configure the wall of noise into something listenable and Black Metallic remains the best overall shoegazer song, with gobs of echo, gobs of Husker Du like guitar buzz and Dickinson's vocals buried in the background.  Catherine Wheel might have had better selling albums but Ferment remains their best overall.  And that's not going to ever change since they broken up after the flop Wishville album.

The Jesus And Mary Chain-Darklands (Warner Brothers 1987)
The Jesus And Mary Chain-Psychocandy (Warner Music UK 1985)

Psychocandy might have been critically acclaimed better but the solemn and subdued second album was easier on the ears. 

Lush-Gala (4AD 1990)
Their albums were spotty even on good days but this record compiles their 3 EPs into one nifty overview, with two versions of Thought Patterns included.  Lush never seemed to get the credit due to them unlike the Choctau Twins.

My Bloody Valentine-Loveless (Creation/Sire 1991)
My Bloody Valentine Isn't Anything (Relativity 1988) 
Given a choice between Isn't Everything or Loveless, I chose the latter of the album closer Soon, which is pretty hypnotic before Kevin Sheild's feedback laden guitar rips into place.  Loveless didn't kill Shoegaze according to rumor, Nevermind and grunge did and not for the better.

Ride-Going Blank Again (Creation/Sire 1992)
Ride-Smile (Creation/Sire 1991)
Ride-Nowhere (Creation/Sire 1990)
Like Lush, Ride had an album compiled of EPs and B sides (Smile) which is worth seeking out and Nowhere is a fun "ride" so to speak, but Going Blank Again starts out with the 8 Minute Leave them All Behind and then Twisterilla, which managed to sneak into the Power Pop Hits of the 1990s on Rhino.  Kids in the midwest didn't buy this, I got mine as a cutout for 3.88 when Camelot was in town and in the mall.  Certainly MBV Loveless might have been an influence but there's also a Hawkwind sound too.  Ride lost focus on the next album and 1996's Tarantula was more classic rock than shoe gaze and I still like 20 years after the fact.  The boys have reunited, like Lush and have a new album in the can.

Blur-Leisure (Food 1991)
Before they became UK working class stiffs with Park Life and then Pavement indee rockers with the self titled album, Leisure found them playing around the showgaze sound with songs like There's No Other Way  and She's So High.  Blur has disowned this album but I still like their shoegazed songs better than the Pavement influenced Song 2 (not that it's bad, it's quite good but it's the only song radio plays if they do play Blur)

The Dylans (Beggars Banquet 1992)
The Charlatans UK-Some Friendly (Beggars Banquet 1991)
The Darkside-All That Noise (Beggars Banquet 1991)

Between their label mates The Charlatans UK, The Dylans had more of a hypnotic vibe vocalwise, The Charlatans were looking to be the new Rolling Stones which they eventually achieved after the death of Rob Collins their keyboardist. The Charlatans also had a hit with The Only One That I Know, complete with them lifting Jon Lord's keyboard work on Hush.  The Dylans had a minor hit with the catchy Godlike.  The knock was that perhaps The Dylans were  a bit too much in the Madchester sound but to these ears their first album was a nice shoegazer mini classic. Followup album flopped and they were no more.  As for The Darkside, All That Noise is really a half assed affair, some good moments, but a lot of the songs are toss off efforts. Melomania released a year later is better including the 9 minute Rise which might be their high point.
Blind Mr. Jones-Stereo Musicale (Cherry Red 1994)
By the time this album came out, Shoegazer music was passe, but give Blind Mr Jones credit for issuing this album 2 years after the fact, but I have no idea who this band was till I found their album in the cutouts for a dollar in 2013.  Herb Cohen issued this via Bizarre/Planet in 1994.  Out of all the shoegazer bands mentioned, Blind MR. Jones has more in common with Hawkwind than MBV or Jesus And Mary Chain.  But nobody knew much about BMJ even in 1994, they also seem to teeter on being a jam band of sorts.  

Curve-Doppelganger (Charisma/Anxious 1992)
Curve-Pubic Fruit (Charisma/Anxious 1992)
Curve-Cuckoo (Charisma/Anxious 1993)

They blurred between MBV and Lush but with a more noiser approach.  Toni Holliday and Dean Garcia were the main folks behind this band and while New Musical Express have basically ignored Curve's album in favor of Slowdive and The Verve but Doppelganger is a shoegazer classic album all its own with Fait Accompli being the main hit.  I tend to think NME missed the boat especially on the Pubic Fruit album which complies the first three Curve EPs plus Fait Accompli.  Like Lush's Gala, Public Fruit shows Curve's EPs to be just as entertaining.

Ned's Atomic Dustbin-Godfodder (Columbia 1991)

If nothing else, Gray Cell Green has a somewhat catchy bass and drum hook, but it's considered fruitless to call them shoegazer, they play too fast and have two bass players in their band but God Fodder remains a good if dated listen.  Later albums were attempts at Modern rock, with mixed results.

So as you can see there's a bit of difference of what I think works for Shoegazer albums and the NME although your opinion will vary.  But at this point and time, nobody really listens to Shoegazer music all that much.  But I still have all these albums around somewhere and do play them from time to time.  If and when I come across any more Slowdive albums or the Verve album in question I'll take the time to listen and comment when I do get around finding them.  But I tend to think they're a bit overrated, as well as the Boo Radley's (I reviewed Cmon Kids and Giant Steps years ago but didn't think much of them).  But I'm sure we'll pick up on this subject in the near future to consider if I was right or wrong on calling these bands overrated.  For now, my opinion remains unchanged.

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