It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven’t been everyone’s favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn’t even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.
Nearly 30 years on from its centralized origins in towns along the Thames, shoegaze is more than ever a global affair. Among the dozen albums on this list are the work of artists from places as far apart as Brisbane, Australia, St. Petersburg, Russia, and good old Chicago, Illinois. This list could have easily kept going, to other worthy albums from locales such as Jersey City (Overlake’s
Fall), Valencia, Spain (Ghost Transmission’s Echoes), and Doncaster, England (93millionmilesfromthesun’s The Lonely Sea & The Sky), but it will begin with one from somewhere and someone more familiar to the scene…
12. The Telescopes – As Light Return (Tapete)
The aforementioned shoegaze veterans Ride and Slowdive both made their big return on record this year, but their stormy psychedelic peers the Telescopes have more or less been un-quietly plugging away since they picked back up in 2002. As Light Return is a thick, often wordless mud of static and sustain. Its five songs weigh down a distant end of the shoegaze spectrum, building up states of anti-bliss that few in their field have the temerity to pull off.
11. Airiel – Molten Young Lovers (Shelflife)
Ten years have passed since Airiel’s debut album, The Battle of Sealand, and it has been five since the Kid Games EP in 2012. The Chicago-based quartet have as much patience as their rhythm-driven songs keep a determined pace. Molten Young Lovers launches itself forward with the propulsive “This Is Permanent” and the single “Cloudburst”, putting drummer Spencer Kiss in the clear center as his bandmates spin sticky melody webs around him. Airiel’s steps may be a bit far in between, but they haven’t made a wrong one yet.
10. The Stargazer Lilies – Lost (Graveface)
The Northeast Pennsylvania duo of John Cep and Kim Field — whose former musical incarnation, Soundpool, has become one of those underappreciated groups that new listeners keep coming around to after the fact — released their guitar-melting second album, Door to the Sun, just last year. Lost is not quite a proper follow up, but a collection of individual tracks and fan favorites that have not until this point been given a rightful physical release. All the same, Lost carries itself with the same heavy psych grace as their two previous LPs, including their cover of the Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot duet, “Bonnie and Clyde”.
9. Blankenberge – Radiogaze
Pinkshinyultrablast’s Grandfeathered made an ear-splitting appearance on last year’s list, and this year we have the full-length arrival of Blankenberge, another shoegaze group from the unlikely hotspot of St. Petersburg, Russia. Radiogaze doesn’t embellish with the same copious levels of noise that Grandfeathered does, but there’s certainly some affinity between the two. Blankenberge reach for decibel-smashing serenity a few hairs shy of shrill, allowing singer Yana’s vocals to hang brightly above the maelstrom.
8. Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – On the Echoing Green (Mexican Summer)
While the Telescopes lure shoegaze to the dark side, further experiments with the form can be found on the new album from Jefre Cantu-Ledesma. Here, the Tarantel founder and prolific experimental solo artist turns the genre’s trademarks inside out, deconstructing the whole and examining the parts like a half-mad scientist. On the Echoing Green is detached from such earthly concerns as verses and choruses, allowing its sense of euphoria to float freely in clouds of gauze and delay.
7. Fazerdaze – Morningside (Flying Nun)
Last seen dominating the indie rock world’s attention in the early 2010’s, bedroom dream pop is alive and well and currently residing in Auckland, New Zealand. That is where 24-year-old Amelia Murray recorded her debut album in, yes, her bedroom studio. After self-releasing a self-titled EP back in 2015, this time around Morningside was picked up by none other than Flying Nun. The famed indie label is a natural home for Fazerdaze’s simple pleasures and supple textures.
6. Panda Riot – Infinity Maps
Chicago has proven to be another locus for the latest generation of shoegazers, being home to both the aforementioned Airiel and also Panda Riot, who arrived there by way of Philadelphia. Don’t let the cuddly band name fool you, Infinity Maps has real teeth, not to mention a few choice My Bloody Valentine-esque guitar bends. The album’s eighteen tracks are thoughtfully layered but never overly dense with guitarist/programmer Brian Cook’s electronic augmentations. Each time through Infinity Maps bears new sights along the path.
5. Froth – Outside (briefly) (Witchita)
It isn’t surprising that the LA-based Froth were tapped to open up for Ride on their US tour earlier this year. For a band that began as a concept-y in-joke between members Joo-Joo Ashworth and Jeff Fribourg, Outside (briefly) is a significant leap forward, capturing the kind of spontaneous chemistry that loads of fully serious bands have trouble sparking. Unconcerned with emulation or folk-style fealty to the form, Froth are free to pull the tropes of shoegaze in whichever direction suits their current mood, be it along motorik beats or through garage rock bash.
4. Lowly – Heba (Bella Union)
Copenhagen quintet Lowly come from Denmark carrying with them the year’s most striking dream pop debut album. Heba sounds like the soulful yet mechanically precise work of an artist with more than a few singles and an EP behind them. Tracks like pattering organic-electro “Deer Eyes” and “Mornings” are sharply sculpted but carry themselves with warm verve. Common as it may now be, the path from indie ambition into the bold world of pop can still be lined with creative peril, but Lowly have sacrificed nil and netted much with Heba.
3. Deafcult – Auras (Hobbledehoy)
The debut album from Brisbane’s Deafcult hits all the right pleasure centers of the shoegaze brain. Auras storms out of the gate with “Lemonade Beauty” and “Secret Wisdom” like an idealized cross between Nothing and Slowdive, and rarely if ever coasts from there on, right up to the “Soon”-like beat of the closing “Here Be Death” shuffles in. “A lot of the album looks back at place, people and sounds to capture feelings of nostalgia,” guitarist/vocalist Stevie Scott told Rolling Stone Australia earlier this year, but very little if anything about their glowing Auras feels stuck in the past, and any of Deafcult’s debts to yesterday are more than paid off here.
2. Ride – Weather Diaries (Witchita)
Oxford’s fab four hadn’t released a new album in 21 years until Weather Diaries arrived this past June. There’s a chance it wasn’t exactly what some listeners expected, but when you look back it all, Ride haven’t really done what people expected since Nowhere, after which they decided to “Leave Them All Behind” and not look back. Could it simply be a coincidence, though, that the most obvious echo of the early days on Weather Diaries is called “Home is a Feeling”? Andy Bell, Mark Gardener, Loz Colbert and Steve Queralt are still capable of conjuring up vintage magic, but they’re also more interested in telling new stories than rehashing old ones. Weather Diaries manages to be both a fresh start and a decades-displaced picking-up from where they left off with Going Blank Again, leaving out the ’60s revivalism of the Britpop era that came afterward.
1. Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans)
For some shoegaze lifers, selecting between these top two might be the equivalent of choosing a favorite parent. To complete that analogy, let’s say Slowdive are ‘mom’ in this scenario, and not just because Rachel Goswell’s voice gives their sound an evident feminine facet simply unavailable to Ride despite their own soothing harmonies (though that’s the easiest deduction). Slowdive always had a way of projecting a calm presence even in the face of the sonic waves they were raising. Slowdive knows when to be patient, when to give space, and when to lay it on. Over the past few years, first with the announcement their reunions, and then this year with their album releases and subsequent touring, the two old colleagues have stayed within a near but respectful distance, appearing to be conscientious of one another if not intentionally coordinating. Against the odds of time and inertia, both have come back with albums that live up to the reputations that built up in their long absence. Slowdive is the kind of return you hope for but don’t often get.