Twenty years on, in 2016, shoegaze -- and its demure twin sister, dream pop -- is a continuing presence and influence on guitar music.
5. Pinkshinyultrablast - Grandfeathered
Taking their name from an Astrobrite album, this St. Petersburg, Russia, band take no pains to hide their influences even as they shroud those influences in sometimes almost painful layers of feedback and electronic distortion. Pinkshinyultrablast are clearly capable of shoegaze conventions, but it is their eagerness to explode those norms and build them back up with Mew-like grandiosity that makes listening to Grandfeathered such a bracing experience. Their world has no patience for payoff or use for understatement -- which could be a problematic approach to real life, but it makes for some powerful music.
4. LSD and the Search for God - Heaven Is a Place
Among the records on this list, Heaven Is a Place might have the most intriguing chronology. San Francisco five-piece LSD and the Search for God put out their first release in January 2007; a self-titled EP containing five songs and cover art that featured (real subtle, guys) a fingertip with a tab of acid on it. Heaven Is a Place is their second record, also and EP with five songs on it. A mere nine years rolled by between the two, in which they built up their devout following and played many heady shows, some in which a few of them even served as members of the Telescopes when they toured with the storied UK shoegaze group. Heaven Is a Place is a long-awaited sermon for the faithful and blazing induction for new converts.
3. Japanese Breakfast - Psychopomp
Shoegaze and dream pop (whether you separate them or think them one-in-the-same) are typically escapist by nature. The heavily delayed guitars and calmly exhaled words can often feel healing and personal, but, with some notable exceptions, the music doesn't often come across as confrontational. Japanese Breakfast is the alias of Little Big League's Michelle Zauner, and Psychopomp came after she stepped away from the Philadelphia-based band to move home to Eugene, Oregon, to be with her mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. Though Psychopomp encompasses more than that particularly difficult time, the album stares directly into life's deeper losses without losing its grip on grace.
2. Wild Nothing - Life of Pause
The meticulous nature of Wild Nothing's records has a way of drawing attention away from the peculiarities. Their 2012 album, Nocturne, could easily serve as a prime example of the sound of "dream pop" in the '10s, yet Jack Tatum's melodic instincts aren't as easily emulated as some of his guitar tones. Life of Pause challenges those instincts more than any previous Wild Nothing record. The album's overt influences range from Steve Reich to Talk Talk, and it brings together '80s new wave, '90s Britpop, and the timeless songwriting tradition of dissecting romantic relationships. A start-to-finish album in a streaming era, Life of Pause distinguishes itself not just from the pack but also from Wild Nothing's own past.
1. Lush - Blind Spot
The first generation shoegazers have been nothing if not respectful of one another in sharing the reunion spotlight these past few years. My Bloody Valentine -- who have over time become synonymous with shoegaze, at least as one of its progenitors, though the band themselves might take some issue with the label -- have been relatively quiet since their last tour in 2013. Slowdive reformed and headlined some of their biggest shows ever in 2014, and word is there could be a new album from them at some point in 2017. Ride made the rounds in 2015 sounding mint condition as they stormed through all the fan favorites. 2016, though, was Lush's year. Not only did they embark on a celebrated year-long victory lap of their own, they released an EP that could have come out right after Split in the early '90s, had in reality they not gone Britpop with Lovelife instead. Though at one point there was talk of following up Blind Spot with an album, Lush announced in November that they would be saying ciao for good that month after their last scheduled show. Blind Spot will have to suffice then; a very fine and appropriately brief souvenir.