Sunday, July 27, 2008

Best Shoegaze, Nu-gaze, Dream Pop albums

Here's a list of some of my favorite albums by shoegazer bands that I think you should know about. This is by no means a definitive list. It's just several bands and albums whose music I have really connected with or enjoyed. I have a lot of this type of music in my collection, thanks to E-music, and as I listen to it more, I will continue to add more bands and albums that I really like to this list. I am leaving the classic shoegaze bands off of this list, since their reputations are already well established, and instead am focusing on more recent and less well known artists.

The Daysleepers - Drowned in a Sea of Sound - Though I was aware of their two well regarded EPs, this, their debut full-length, is the first thing by them that I downloaded and really listened to. I liked it at first, but wasn't blown away by it. Then I woke up in the morning with the melody for one of the songs (Lovesparkles) going through my head. It was beautiful and I couldn't quite remember where I had heard it, but I knew I needed to figure it out. Some reflection brought this album to mind so I listened to it again, found the song, and realized just how good it is. This definitely has the energy of a rock album, but it's also very dreamy and atmospheric, featuring airy, sparkling guitars over driving bass and drums. The opening song, "Release the Kraken," has a catchy arpeggiated guitar riff that reminds me of Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper." The slower songs like "Distant Creatures," "Lovesparkles," and "The Secret Place" are all lovely and among my favorites on the record. Also really nice is the instrumental piece "Space Whale Migration."

Monster Movie - Last Night Something Happened - Monster Movie is a band featuring Christian Saville, formerly of Slowdive, which almost establishes their shoegazer credentials before you've even heard the music. Thankfully, the music lives up to the expectations generated by such credentials. I hear an element of britpop mixed in with the shoegaze sound here. There are so many songs on this album that really stick out that it's hard to keep track of them all. The instrumental opener, "First Trip to the City," features a great organ part over a slow but steady beat and a longing, melancholy melody. After this the album kicks into gear with "Shortwave," another emotionally engaging piece of yearning, mid-tempo, minor key melancholy featuring a spacious guitar sound. "Waiting" is a catchy, upbeat number that brings back the organ and features the lovely male/female vocal harmonies that are a hallmark of shoegazer bands like Slowdive. "Waiting on a Train" is an all out rocker featuring crunchy guitars and a driving beat. "4th and Pine," the song that gives the album its name, is a catchy bass driven track with a big chorus that features more of the wonderful vocal harmonies, and "Ooby" is another one of those tracks whose big, catchy chorus ingrained itself into my brain even before I was really well acquainted with the album. This is a definite winner.

Tears Run Rings - Always, Sometimes, Seldom, Never - I downloaded this almost on a whim after listening to the 30 second samples on E-music, and boy am I glad I did. This is a great album. A lot of it has an edgier sound but still maintains the atmosphere and vibe of shoegaze music. Perhaps you could say the reference here is more My Bloody Valentine than Slowdive though that isn't quite right either, as some of the songs here like the slow, dreamy "Beautiful Stranger" are lifted right out of the Slowdive play book, with their big, warm, fuzzy, floating guitars and harmony vocals. The melodies are very strong throughout the album. Among my favorites: "How Will the Others Survive?," a driving melody, backed by a blistering wall of guitar noise, and featuring a cool two note opening riff; "World Upside Down," with it's pronounced back-beat, choppy but still dreamy rhythm guitar, and echoey vocals; and the uber-cool "Mind the Wires," which has a great fade in opening featuring a haunting female vocal part. "Waiting for the End" is also a lovely slower number. Highly recommended.

Highspire - Your Everything - This is another one that leans towards the edgier side of the shoegaze spectrum a lot. I haven't listened to this closely enough yet to pick out individual songs and talk about their features, but the few times I've played it I've been very impressed overall. One thing that sets this album apart from the others is that it experiments around with other styles of music, introducing trip-hop rhythms and big groovy chill-out base lines into several songs. So the album veers between driving, feedback oriented guitar numbers, slower dreamier tracks, and the trip-hop oriented tracks. The last track on the album features about two minutes of music, followed by about nine minutes of silence, and then a strange two minute spoken word track featuring a programed beat. When I become more familiar with this album, I try to fill in some of the details here.

Alright, that's a good start for now. I've been writing for over an hour and need to take a break, so I'll add to this list in further posts. One more thing of note that occured to me as was writing this is that all of the bands in this post are on the same record label, Clairecords. Clairecords is a label that specializes in shoegaze type music, so if you're into that you should definitely visit their webpage or their page on e-music.

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