This 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.
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.