A History of Shoegaze in 45 Essential Songs

best shoegaze songs

It sounds almost like a joke, and in a sense it was. In the early ’90s, British magazine Sounds published a review of a Moose live show, in which the term “shoegaze” was used to describe the manner in which singer Russell Yates had kept his eyes fixed on floor the whole time—supposedly because of lyric sheets he’d placed in front of him. And Lush’s Miki Berenyi called “shoegaze” a “slag-off” term, implying a kind of inertia on the part of the artist. But the way that these things always go—choose your favorite absurdly named genre here—is eventual acceptance and celebration of someone’s once-sarcastic critique. And so it is with shoegaze, one of the most fruitful and inspired sectors of indie music in the past 40 years, awash in effects, dense layers of guitars, and an eye ever focused on the pedalboard.

Shoegaze took off in earnest in the late ’80s, with British bands such as A.R. Kane and My Bloody Valentine, though its seeds were planted decades earlier. Slowdive’s Neil Halstead cites The Cure as an influence, not only in sound but in how Robert Smith maintained picture of stoic restraint onstage. And the seeds of its effects driven wall of guitars were planted not just in the post-punk era, but in the stranger corners of glam rock, the experimental nature of krautrock, and the Velvet Underground’s embrace of noise. As we survey the history of shoegaze as a whole, we trace how we got here, from rough sketches more than 50 years ago to contemporary updates that keep pushing it forward.

Over the past decade or so, the influence of shoegaze has been more prevalent than arguably at any time since its arrival in the late ’80s and early ’90s—though not necessarily everyone is excited about that. Regardless, it’s hard to deny just how amazing it all sounds. So in our latest genre history, we offer a list of 45 of the best shoegaze songs, from the early roots creating the foundation of the sound to the pioneers, progenitors, torch-bearers and descendants.


best shoegaze songs velvet underground
Verve

The Velvet Underground – “I Heard Her Call My Name” (1968)

There’s a jarring Dadaism to how the Velvet Underground blend treacly retro pop with “consciously anti-beauty” guitar distortion on their polarizing second album, White Light / White Heat. “I Heard Her Call My Name” showcases this tension as sharply as anything on the record. The foundational noise rock odyssey “Sister Ray” tends to dominate the conversation, but this song merits further consideration. It may be the most punishing guitar song the Velvet Underground ever put out—the most shoegazey track on their most shoegazey (or at least noisy) album. “And then my mind split open,” Lou Reed speak-sings midway through, before launching into a solo that sounds like the aural equivalent of the process—tuneless guitar lacerations charged with feedback. Whatever’s on your mind, play loud. – Casey Burke


Virgin

Faust – “Krautrock” (1973)

There’s a funny irony in a namesake song of a very specific genre being a prototype for a different genre entirely, but “Krautrock,” the 11-minute opener of Faust’s legendary IV bridges the motorik with the miasmal. Rudolf Sosna’s guitars are the main event here, more so than arguably any other track on the record, layered and dense, buzzing and droning, as if Fripp and Eno’s legendary ambient loops were fed through a Big Muff. For all its fuzz, though, there’s a meditative quality to the chaos, its thrums, squeals and jangles all built up into an impenetrable strata of all-consuming guitar. It sounds glorious and ecstatic, alive and otherworldly. And yeah, now that you mention it, it’s a pretty great krautrock track, too. – Jeff Terich


best shoegaze songs Brian Eno
Island

Brian Eno – “Needles in the Camel’s Eye” (1974)

Nearly any of the 10 songs on Brian Eno’s solo debut album could in some way be perceived as a predecessor to shoegaze—for instance, the title track that closes the album, named thusly because of the “warm jet” guitar sound that Eno captured. But it’s the opening track, “Needles in the Camel’s Eye,” which arrives in a dense rush of guitars and effects, glam rock layered upon itself in what Eno described as an instrumental with vocals on top of it. And that’s because it’s really not about the vocals, but the gorgeously dense art-rock armada that Eno sends forth from its opening cue. They don’t sound like warm jets, exactly, but perhaps an amplified translation of the first moment of sunlight penetrating a layer of clouds. – Jeff Terich


best shoegaze songs wire
Harvest

Wire – “The 15th” (1979)

Wire have long objected to being a punk band, and understandably so given that the raw minimalism of Pink Flag proved a one-time-only event. Within two years they had grown to exploring more textural and atmospheric material, their 1979 album 154 more goth than punk and more art-rock than either. And though My Bloody Valentine did eventually cover one of this album’s highlights, it’s side A standout “The 15th” that feels most aligned with the richly layered sonic temples of shoegaze, a fuzzy, buzzing pop song with endlessly mesmeric qualities. Though guitars and a background layer of synth provide the bedrock of “The 15th,” Colin Newman’s vocals feel as much a part of the atmosphere, his higher melodic register simply drifting with the current. – Jeff Terich


4AD

Cocteau Twins – “My Love Paramour” (1983)

Cocteau Twins emerged in the early ’80s as a darkwave group steeped in the sort of haunted surrealism David Lynch would make his stock in trade over the decades to come. By the middle of the ’80s, they’d strip away much of the abrasion that colored their early records, but on their sophomore album Head Over Heels, the group offers a few brief glimpses of what we’d eventually recognize as shoegaze. On “My Love Paramour,” that still carries the gothic pall of debut Garlands, but with Robin Guthrie’s disorienting waves of guitar crashing upon their gloomy shores. This isn’t the chaotic bliss of shoegaze at its peak, but a younger portrait of itself, with teased hair and dark eyeliner. – Jeff Terich


Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy tour
Blanco y Negro

The Jesus and Mary Chain – “Just Like Honey” (1985)

I was one of the millions of people who had no idea “Just Like Honey” existed until it appeared at the end of Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation. (Sorry.) In 1985, at the time of its release, U2, Run-DMC, Prince and The Police were clogging up my Big 80’s cassette mix. But as soon as those drums arrive, deliberately stolen from the beginning of The Ronettes’ 1963 evergreen declaration “Be My Baby,” while Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanson are sorting their low-key, light-weight May-(very) December romance, we’re thrown into a soundscape that sums up being a bit off in a foreign land and recognizing others who suffer from the same malady.

It’s Tokyo, and this film has been set to music. “Just Like Honey” aspires to be sweet, and to some extent it is, but it’s ’60s counterculture and Dick Clark’s American Bandstand filtered through a pre-grunge prism. Incomplete and ambiguous, much like an American navigating Japan with a limited understanding of the native tone. As a result, the marriage of guitar noise and pop songwriting has become a new abbreviation for feeling out of focus but still visible. – John-Paul Shiver


Spacemen 3
Glass

Spacemen 3 – “Take Me to the Other Side” (1987)

Among a certain subset of hallucinogen-taking hipsters, the debate as to whether The Perfect Prescription or Playing with Fire is the superior Spacemen 3 album is as heated as those between Radiohead’s OK Computer and Kid A, or Weezer’s Blue Album and Pinkerton. Recorded when founders Peter Kember and Jason Pierce were still a functioning partnership (the two ceased writing songs together shortly afterward), The Perfect Prescription feels light-years away from the inevitable comedown: songs regularly stretch past the five-minute mark, and every strummed chord seems to ring out into infinity. Scattered throughout the interstellar clouds of ambient guitars, though, are noisy squalls indebted to bands such as the Stooges and MC5. Opener “Take Me to the Other Side” is one of the unusual songs where these wildly different styles combine, forming something tighter and more forceful than pure psychedelia but woozier than proto-punk—not to mention, one of the rare Spacemen 3 tunes where you don’t have to be on drugs to get the desired effect. – Jacob Nierenberg


best shoegaze songs A.R. Kane
Rough Trade

A.R. Kane – “honeysuckleswallow” (1989)

Black people have invented a great deal, if not most, of the art we love. This is a simple and hard fact we are confronted with again and again in the colonized world, with their labor often erased or else just obscured for decades. While unpacking the fullness of that revelation falls on us all in daily life, here let us simply think positively of one of the forebears of shoegaze, AR Kane. They prefigured a hell of a lot of music, to be fair, from the arthouse usages of ambient dub and hip-hop beats colliding with alt rock to the languorous placidity of post-rock and mechanized churn of trip-hop. But on “honeysuckleswallow,” they also prefigure shoegaze, particularly the gauzy and distorted vaseline smeared window sort. The naming convention here would later go on to influence groups like loveliescrushing and Astrobrite, while the sonics themselves were picked up most notably by My Blood Valentine, all groups that championed A.R. Kane but to little mainstream penetration. Let’s fix that. – Langdon Hickman


4AD

Lush – “Sweetness and Light” (1990)

Lush’s career-spanning best-of compilation, Ciao!, is sequenced in reverse chronological order, so what you hear is a Britpop band gradually growing more psychedelic and obscured in shimmering filters. The group’s second single, “Sweetness and Light,” showcases just how well crafted and sonically conceptual the group’s songs were from the very start, an immaculate single that manages to combine otherworldly atmosphere, a subtly more disorienting progression, intoxicating hooks and a great riff all in the course of a five-minute track. The next six years would find the band exploring each of the facets of this song individually and collectively—fuzz turned up or down, hooks foregrounded or dialed back, dream factor to the nth degree. Here, everything is in perfect balance, a launch into the ether with no need for course correction. – Jeff Terich


Creation/Sire

Ride – “Vapour Trail” (1990)

The closing track from Oxford band Ride’s 1990 debut album Nowhere is not just one of the best songs of the shoegaze genre, but of the entirety of the ’90s. It works off a simple drone of guitar with drummer Loz Colbert as the star of the song, as he plays around the guitars while keeping a simple yet moving groove. The vocals only add to the ambiance of the song, rather than being the sole focal point, which is perhaps why this song got more airplay on college radio than on commercial rock radio, which had not transitioned over to the “alternative” format yet, which would become the norm in just a few years. It did however cement the band’s cult status, allowing them to experiment with deeper levels of the surreal. – Wil Lewellyn


best shoegaze songs Chapterhouse
Dedicated

Chapterhouse – “Pearl” (1991)

Chapterhouse is the dark horse of first-wave shoegaze. By their own admission, they strove for a Velvet Underground-style cult success more than “the odd hit single.” It’s ironic, then, that “Pearl” has become their calling card. The lead single from their breakout Whirlpool is not so oppressive or blistering as a My Bloody Valentine song, and much dancier—liquid stadium rock with a shoegaze sensibility, like the result of someone speeding up the sound dials on “Soon” and injecting pop flair. Chief songwriters Andrew Sheriff and Stephen Patman express the same sort of cold, cosmic yearning as Shields in their lyrics (“On my mind, liquid pearl / Coolest blue, fire world / But I can’t seem to change her mind”) with a lighter musical touch. “Pearl” is worth coming back to for this tension alone: embodying shoegaze while at the same time defying it. – Casey Burke


best shoegaze songs loveless
Creation/Sire

My Bloody Valentine – “Soon” (1991)

There’s a strong argument for 10 of the 11 songs on Loveless being mentioned in a history of the sound’s most iconic moments—”Touched” being the sole interlude that exists mostly to bridge one moment of guitar-driven ecstasy to another. The seven minutes of “Soon,” however, represent My Bloody Valentine as a perfection of shoegaze in one single track. Driven by drum loops fit for actual movement rather than insular brooding, it’s the most extroverted form of their fuzz-driven drive. Much has been made of the painstaking lengths that Kevin Shields went to in order to capture the sound he had in his head, but it wasn’t the number of pedals he used so much as finding a way to get them to do what he want. Here, that means jet engines soaring skyward as the rhythm speaks to the hips. It’s everything a shoegaze song can and should be, so it’s no wonder countless bands have attempted their own carbon copy. -Jeff Terich


Fontana

Catherine Wheel – “Black Metallic” (1992)

Wrapping references to love in the materials and mystique of cars, this could be considered the first great intersection of shoegaze and goth rock. “Black Metallic” has more in common with “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” than it cares to admit—the guitar that stings like tendrils of clouds of jellyfish, the echoing production voids and dramatic pullbacks to periods of quiet, Rob Dickinson’s repeated refrains becoming mantras for the genre. I don’t doubt for a second that this is a deep cut on someone’s bondage session soundtrack. – Adam Blyweiss


Anxious/Charisma

Curve – “Horror Head” (1992)

Curve is a funny band in the history of shoegaze. They emerged in the dominant alt-rock-associated second wave of the genre in the early ’90s, missing the formative late ’80s gothic rock period of shoegaze’s development. Still, they managed to contain more of the lingering elements of goth music and the traces of prog and avant-garde that emerged from that vector, shown here with their (relative) hit “Horror Head.” Later, the band would go on brief hiatus before reemerging in the late ’90s and early 2000s to join that resurgent wave of the genre that added more discrete rock and industrial influence to their sound, effectively bridging the the gap between those two spaces. Curve have always been an “if you know you know” type band, like Airiel or the Telescopes but their influence within the scene and its development has always been a silent force. – Langdon Hickman


Creation

The Boo Radleys – “Lazarus” (1993)

Fading in and out, awash in echoing effects, Boo Radleys’ 1993 single “Lazarus” makes it move after a minute or so—the backing instruments tapering off for Simon “Sice” Rowbottom’s hoarse voice. In a style that feels predictive of sounds to come a decade later, “Lazarus” looks forward while carrying a kind of teenage angst. Contrary to much of the heavier guitar-laden tracks of the era, “Lazarus” applies a dub/reggae funk in the beginning that moves aside, taken over by a more straightforward pulse. The backing harmonies add depth to the flickering vocals of Rowbottom—which are made brittle by distortion and humbled by a big burst of horns. It’s a maximalist version of shoegaze, peeking into the corners of alt-rock with aggressive guitar and an ever so slightly in-your-face (or ears) vibe. – Konstantin Rega


Drag City

Flying Saucer Attack – “My Dreaming Hill” (1993)

Flying Saucer Attack frontman David Pearce has described the sound of his band’s self-titled album as “rural psychedelia”. It’s a lovely description, and is best epitomized by the brilliant opening track “My Dreaming Hill.” The track sounds like ambling through the British countryside on an evening similar to that of the album’s cover, scanning the sky in search of spaceships. Flying Saucer Attack would probably be uncomfortable being tagged as shoegaze. Noisy DIY space rock might be a more panoptic description, however there’s no denying that the band’s temporal proximity to the genre’s foundational scene, as well as their loud, melancholic and often-abrasive sound makes them an important and unique part of shoegaze’s history. – Tom Morgan


best shoegaze songs medicine
Creation

Medicine – “Time Baby II” (1993)

This Los Angeles band are an underappreciated set of American contributors to shoegaze canon. Their highlight is a B-side to an EP centered around a track from their debut Shot Forth Self Living, another Def American release that highlights Rick Rubin’s prescient taste-making. Its super fuzzy guitar, bang-on-a-can drumming, and Beth Thompson’s upfront vocals made this a messy slice of perfect pop, like a crumbling cake or oozing pie that nevertheless tastes awesome. This would get a lot of exposure thanks to their appearance in The Crow in 1994, with a spit-shined, Elizabeth Frazer-sung “Time Baby III” version included on the soundtrack. – Adam Blyweiss


Too Pure

Seefeel – “Plainsong” (1993)

The dirty little secret of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is that it had a few solid dance grooves hiding in there. The London group Seefeel would expand on MBV’s explorations of electronically processed dreampop by inverting the formula, making their first album Quique full of new rave that managed to support swirling guitar-driven noise. “Plainsong” is about as close as Mark Clifford and company came to approaching a hit, its looped riffs, hi-hats, and low synths supporting Sarah Peacock’s glossolalia. – Adam Blyweiss


best winter albums Slowdive
Creation

Slowdive – “Souvlaki Space Station” (1993)

If the release of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless in 1991 signified shoegaze’s peak, by 1993, the genre’s trajectory was headed toward footnote-status. When Slowdive’s Souvlaki debuted, much of the trendsetting British music press, particularly NME and Melody Maker, was unimpressed. Nonetheless, the album remained entrenched in the genre’s famous atmospherics. Nowhere is this more clear than on the dub-inspired psychedelia and echoing effects of “Souvlaki Space Station.” With Rachel Goswell’s indecipherable vocals buried deep in the mix, Nick Chaplin’s excellent post-punk bass-line grounds the listener within an otherwise expansive track. It’s a highlight from shoegaze’s most melancholic band. – Noah Sparkes


Swervedriver Mezcal Head review
Creation

Swervedriver – “Last Train to Satansville” (1993)

The defining feature of shoegaze is, generally, texture rather than movement—feeling rather than action. Most of the time. Swervedriver tested that theory by perfecting their pedal chains in the service of some spectacular rock songs. Mezcal Head, the band’s second and best album, is as big on heady layers of fuzz as it is genuine guitar-god riffs, the kind of fretboard wizardry you’d commonly expect to hear on a Dinosaur Jr. or Smashing Pumpkins record, but produced for maximum headphone euphoria. “Last Train to Satansville” is the pinnacle of that balance, a saga of a song that pumps surf-rock riffs into a hypercharged, hard-rocking sound that’s headed straight to hell. – Jeff Terich


Hut

The Verve – “Slide Away” (1993)

Nearly half a decade before conquering Britpop and subsequently being on the business end of a Rolling Stones lawsuit, spaced-out Mancunians The Verve found their kick in the vastness of an open, hazy sky. Truth be told, most of the songs on 1997’s Urban Hymns that aren’t “Bittersweet Symphony” are cut from the same cloth as 1993 single “Slide Away,” a dense and druggy thesis statement of The Verve in miniature: Richard Ashcroft’s expressive vocal performance finding a vast, yet crunchy backdrop in Nick McCabe’s guitars. There’s a sense of jam-like freedom, in spite of its conciseness, that feels as if the group could keep following this groove wherever the muse takes them without ever losing the feeling of such a powerful wind at their backs. – Jeff Terich


best shoegaze songs Lilys
SpinART

The Lilys – “The Hermit Crab” (1995)

In the span of about five years, Philadelphia’s Lilys transformed from Loveless daydreams to Kinks-inspired flights of psychedelic fancy—probably not a metamorphosis anyone other than frontman Kurt Heasley could have seen coming, but the process seems more gradual in hindsight. On “The Hermit Crab,” a standout moment from the group’s outstanding 1995 album Eccsame The Photon Band, a big raygun guitar riff tumbles over gracefully nebulous sheets of pristine jangle, as Heasley surveys a life spent inside his shell: “I want to be alone again/ I hate the friends I do not have.” Its sound is early period Lilys at their most buoyant, even if its lyrics seem to shun the outside world. But when your companion is a sound this spectacular, really, what else do you need? – Jeff Terich


best shoegaze songs Starflyer 59
Tooth & Nail

Starflyer 59 – “A House Wife Love Song” (1995)

Unless you’re really in the know, most people would balk at the concept of “Christian shoegaze.” Yet such a thing existed in the ‘90s—even though the band on the receiving end of that label would have rejected it. Starflyer 59 was and is the passion project of a Southern California truck driver named Jason Martin. All he ever wanted to do with his friends was make music that married the pop hooks of The Smiths and Blur with heaviness of ‘70s blues rock. On his second album, typically referred to as the Gold record, he opens with a powerhouse tune called “A House Wife Love Song.” From the jump, he assaults your ears with double- and triple-tracked guitars drenched in massive layers of effects, complete with squealing feedback squeals. In classic quiet-loud-quiet-loud fashion, the noise drops out in the verses so you focus on his hushed mumbled musings about broken hearts and frustrated love. But the song’s power lies in Martin’s capacity to combine tidy lead licks soaked in tremolo with outre chord progressions that still translate into dynamic pop songs. – Adam P. Newton


Bardo Pond amanita
Matador

Bardo Pond – “Tantric Porno” (1996)

Bardo Pond gaze from their third eye. The Philadelphia group are rooted in psychedelia and space rock, the compositions on their cult classic 1996 album Amanita prone to sprawling to single-unfriendly lengths, and often adrift in a wash of effects that hit like a particularly potent blend of chemicals. Which may or may not also pair well with their heady sonic blend. “Tantric Porno” is neither the band’s heaviest nor their most formless, but a blissful network of soft-focus shimmer and hallucinatory levitation. Despite the name, it’s less an encapsulation of erotic ecstasy than a compact but limitless form of pure bliss. – Jeff Terich


best shoegaze songs Swirlies
Taang!

Swirlies – “San Cristobal de las Casas” (1996)

A brilliant and underappreciated unifier between the bubbling US lo-fi movement and dwindling UK shoegaze scene, Swirlies took an unorthodox creative approach to the genre by flipping the script on shoegaze’s typically effect-buried vocals and endless walls of sound. “San Cristobal de las Casas” showcases the Boston band’s expert fusion of the ornamental and the abrasive, as the band’s irregular use of space and clarity is fully worked to their advantage. With vocals on the frontlines and generous distortion toggles, “San Cristobal” verses clear the air to allow heavier chorus and bridge moments to hit even harder. Swirlies’ collagist approach and modest production on They Spend Their Wild Youthful Days subtly bridged the gap between genres, attitudes and oceans. Though the band’s influence is notable but oft overlooked, Swirlies feel like your favorite band’s favorite band. – Patrick Pilch


best shoegaze songs Hum
RCA

Hum – “Green to Me” (1998)

This deep cut from Hum’s Downward is Heavenward might not have had the chart trajectory of the band’s 1995 hit “Stars,” but creatively holds even more depth. Rather than going for radio friendly hooks, Matt Talbot’s matter-of-fact vocal melody coasts across the churning ambiance of guitar anchored by the fuzzed out thump of the bassline. Both the Deftones and Deafheaven have cited this band as an influence, which can be heard in the subtle sonic heaviness here. The entirety of Downward is Heavenward album was way ahead of its time in 1998, this song serves as one of their catchier reminders of this fact, showing how infectious melody and aural density can coexist. – Wil Lewellyn


best indie rock albums of the 00s Yo La Tengo
Matador

Yo La Tengo – “Cherry Chapstick” (2000)

Ah, the roar when a quiet record gets loud. Released at the turn of the century, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out marked a departure in Yo La Tengo’s sound: a shying away from the feedback-driven rock of their previous three albums toward whispered domestic ballads full of empty space. “Cherry Chapstick” is a screaming wound in the middle of the tracklist, a master class in guitar squall every bit the equal of anything on I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One or Painful. For a searing six minutes, Ira Kaplan alternates between plainspoken odes to a hazy, unattainable woman (a shoegaze specialty) and hammering the life from his distorted guitar. Yo La Tengo hasn’t roared like this since. – Casey Burke


best shoegaze songs boris
Southern Lord/Diwphalanx

Boris – “Farewell” (2005)

Boris play heavy rock. Specifically drone and doom, with a catalog that balances album-length post-metal compositions and roaring bursts of riff-driven sludge. So when something as beautifully otherworldly and anthemic as Pink standout “Farewell” comes along—bathing the free-floating narcotic sensation of Slowdive at their best in as much distortion as humanly possible—the result is something intoxicating and arresting. A contender for both Boris’ prettiest song and most heroic, “Farewell” (ironically placed at track one on some versions of the album) aims for heights of cinematic glory even when washed in noise. But even as it moves so gracefully, composed with an ear for a kind of beauty that heavy music so often evades, the gravity of Atsuo’s snare and kick break through to remind us of what kind of power this band still wields after all. – Jeff Terich


asobi seksu citrus
Friendly Fire

Asobi Seksu – “Thursday” (2006)

On “Thursday,” Asobi Seksu vocals Yuki Chikudate serves up a subtle, melodic yet whispery vocal melody against harder guitar riffs played by James Hanna and propulsive drums by Brian Greene, creating a reverberating world to rock to rather than sink into. While much in the shoegaze sphere, there’s a notable electric sound that cuts through a bit more than other artists working in the genre—a little less dreamy, a little more attentive. “Thursday” is energetic, Chikudate breathily singing sometimes a layer of backdrop noise and sometimes out in front. There’s lot of volume here, too, with distorted guitar and obscured vocals building a wave of sound sweeping through and fading away. – Konstantin Rega


Blonde Redhead 23
4AD

Blonde Redhead – “23” (2007)

Blonde Redhead’s never been a band committed solely to one direction, the rare band whose body of work descends from those of Portishead, Sonic Youth and Serge Gainsbourg alike. Which is to say that they’ve always been mostly shoegaze adjacent rather than firmly embedded into its sonic atmosphere. Except on “23,” the leadoff track from the group’s 2007 album of the same name (and, certainly some of the other tracks on that same album). The stark echo of piano that opens “23” might nod to the noir textures of 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly, but when Amadeo Pace hits that tremolo bar, in rushes a narcotic haze of mystery and maximalism. It’s one of very few moments of its kind in the group’s catalog, and understandably so—when you get it perfect on a first attempt, no need to repeat yourself. – Jeff Terich


jesu conqueror
Hydra Head

Jesu – “Conqueror” (2007)

Godflesh’s Justin Broadrick offered a glimpse of heavy music’s hazy future on 2001’s “Anthem,” from Hymns, a track that cast aside the punishing industrial apocalypse of the British artist’s body of work in favor of something dreamier, prettier, less hostile. That idea flourished with Jesu, a project that essentially moved at the same pace as Godflesh, but with fragile beauty in place of a landscape glowing with the embers of earth’s destruction. “Conqueror” is among the most deeply affecting of his works as Jesu, opening the album of the same name with metallic textures and gorgeous melodies, as if Broadrick had finally visited the fictional world that Sigur Rós draw their inspiration from and came back a changed man. – Jeff Terich


best shoegaze songs deerhunter
Kranky

Deerhunter – “Vox Celeste” (2008)

Deerhunter’s not-so-surprise Weird Era Cont. contains perhaps one of the best bass riffs in shoegaze history. “Vox Celeste” is monumental, undoubtedly a crowning Deerhunter moment led by the late great Josh Fauver. The bassist’s contribution is utter ear candy and easily the most magnetic part of the track. Its verses hit for sure, but the chorus riff is like an earworm evolved; a parasitic melody. Quite frankly, Josh Fauver drives a lot of Weird Era Cont. but is in full command on “Vox Celeste,” surfacing for great melodic inhales to draw listeners close and swallow them whole. It’s a thrilling pop highlight on an otherwise heady record, best followed by the sparse ambient comedown “Cicadas,” which feels like the halo of tweety-birds after a cartoon head clobbering. In retrospect, songs like “Vox Celeste” reveal the relatively short gap between Deerhunter’s experimental origins and subliminal pop pursuits, combining the band’s knack for atmospheric immersion and some dang good hooks. – Patrick Pilch


best shoegaze songs m83
Mute

M83 – “Graveyard Girl” (2008)

Anthony Gonzalez might not seem to fit the profile of a shoegaze artist, but despite the background in electronic music, he certainly is. It would be unfair and ignorant to exclude M83 just because he often prefers banks of keyboards and processors over guitars and effects pedals. But the overall effect of his aural tableau is absolutely cut from the same cloth as My Bloody Valentine.

On “Graveyard Girl,” Gonzales and crew fuse his love of dense soundscapes with a barrage of ‘80s influences to create a glittering pop goodness. Serving the second single for and fourth track of his 2008 breakout album, Saturday = Youth, the song speaks the language of shoegaze with its hushed vocals and stacks of reverb-drenched guitar crunch. But M83 turns it around by injecting lush synth patches, rippling bass lines, bright drums, and a melodic guitar phrase that veritably shimmers. The result is a pop song that stands firmly in the shoegaze tradition while also bringing the genre out of its sad, dimly-lit basement and into the sunshine. – Adam P. Newton


horrors primary colours
XL

The Horrors – “Primary Colours” (2009)

Here they are, the undisputed champions of the 2000s shoegaze scene. “Primary Colours,” their best song from their best album, may at first seem a bit of an odd choice for the group. For instance, it lacks the motorik development of their later material as well as the industrial edge the group would later take on, while also largely eschewing the straight forward goth rock of their first record. However, this song, about Superman and social anxiety, the primary colors of his suit and the crippling doubt inside, capture an important post-Cure element to what shoegaze is at its heart; a post-gothic examination of mania and terror, power and powerlessness, through the haze of dissociation. The driving upbeat melodies and tempo bely a trembling terror inside. Everything that came after feels like elaborations of this moment. – Langdon Hickman


pains of being pure at heart belong
Slumberland

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – “Belong” (2011)

Forget what you might have remembered about this indie rock act from the late aughts. Though they were twee darlings who thoughtfully reinvented C86 jangle-pop for a new generation with their 2009 debut—a deft collection of sweet songs about young love and growing up atop a bed of zippy guitar melodies—with the release of Belong in 2011, the quartet made clear their love of overdriven guitars cut from the shoegaze milieu. The title track and album opener delivers crushing waves of distortion and ‘70s rock riffs. The obvious musical touchstone is Siamese Dream by Smashing Pumpkins, but the song still sparkles with clarity of production that allows the riffs to shine instead of getting buried in layers of echo. “Belong” possesses a bouncy energy that effectively straddles the line between pop groove and rock swagger. – Adam P. Newton


Prophecy

Alcest – “Autre Temps” (2012)

The intersection of shoegaze and black metal is a fascinating one. The two make for surprisingly palatable bedfellows, a form of genre alchemy that has resulted in some stunning hybrid creations. French act Alcest are pioneers of this mixture, as evident on a track like “Autre Temps”, the opening song their fantastic 2012 album Les Voyages de l’âme (English: The Journeys Of The Soul). Whereas some Alcest tracks lean heavier on black metal intensity and others on shoegaze serenity, “Autre Temps” collapses the generic distinctions of both these influences. The result is a resplendent, colorful and emotionally-charged work that emulates its album’s title—it makes your soul soar. – Tom Morgan


best shoegaze songs deftones
Reprise

Deftones – “Rosemary” (2012)

There are numerous moments from across Deftones’ 25-plus-year career that see the Sacramento band infuse their emotive brand of alt metal with shoegaze motifs, such as “Be Quiet And Drive”’s hypnotic linearity, or “Sextape”’s cosmic sensuality. Out of all these them, Koi No Yokan standout “Rosemary” is the track that sees Deftones most thrillingly expand on the genre rulebook. Across nearly seven minutes, “Rosemary” employs pummeling guitars, dreamlike lyrics and captivating textures in service of a dense, commanding epic. The whole thing plays out in a massive mid-tempo stomp, giving the track enormous heft and allowing it to land with mesmeric force. By the time it reaches the transcendent closing breakdown, you never want “Rosemary” to end. – Tom Morgan


best shoegaze songs deafheaven
Deathwish Inc.

Deafheaven – “Sunbather” (2013)

“Sunbather,” the title track from Deafheaven’s remarkable 2013 album, is technically a black metal song, but anyone could be forgiven for thinking otherwise in its first minute or so. Kerry McCoy’s guitars feel impenetrable yet breathtaking, like attempting to reach a hidden passageway by walking headlong into a rushing waterfall. It’s only when George Clarke emits a harsh vocal shriek—as well as when the song transitions into more of a traditional black metal gallop, giving Daniel Tracy the opportunity to exercise his chops—that any semblance of discordance and abrasion break through the bright, warm surface. It’s a song steeped in the tradition of Souvlaki and Loveless but seething with Transilvanian hunger. Deafheaven didn’t invent blackgaze, but they brought it out into the sunlight, where it could fully bloom. – Jeff Terich


Nothing Guilty of Everything
Relapse

Nothing – “Dig” (2014)

The first single from Nothing’s Guilty of Everything serves as a fitting calling card for the shoegaze revival that was taking off in 2014. Their sound was much rougher around the edges, due to the fact the Philly band all used to be hardcore kids (and concurrently; Jesus Piece’s Aaron Heard spent five years with the band), before expanding their sonic horizons. The bass and the drums take a more aggressive approach than their peers, with a punchy undercurrent to the dreamy layer floating above them. The airy, almost whispery effect of the vocals feel like an emotive ghost of fading memories. With songs this compelling, it was only a matter of time before Nothing became the preeminent band of this new movement. – Wil Lewellyn


Kranky

Helen – “Pass Me By” (2015)

Wouldn’t be a Treble list without Liz Harris, huh? Grouper offshoot Helen only linked for one record in 2015, but the highly underrated The Original Faces is an itch Grouper doesn’t always quite scratch. Harris, Jed Bindeman, Scott Simons, and a mysterious fourth collaborator named “Helen” come together on a hazy, overcast afternoon of a record; “Pass Me By” is just another break in the clouds. The band’s bleary pop attitude supplies a tangible warmth across The Original Faces and the mid record cut is structured like a burning fuse. Defined bass lines back a wash of guitar fuzz before Harris’ layered harmonies iron out a percussion-led breakthrough. It’s the exact kind of climax the band craft so well, one that feels like the ultimate sigh, total release. – Patrick Pilch


Anti-

Title Fight – “Murder Your Memory” (2015)

Title Fight’s last LP before their lengthy current hiatus, Hyperview should have been anything other than emo-tinged shoegaze. But with producer Will Yip at the helm, the band carved out a sonic fugue that was as mesmerizing as it was polarizing. “Murder Your Memory,” appropriately titled given the band’s prior punk outings, leaned hard into the idea of innovating their sound while exploring new territory. And that territory was melancholy, grim, and painfully beautiful. Lean and long passages of fuzz and aching guitars yearning, gleaming into ether. It’s short, but so full, and so rich. – Brian Roesler


best shoegaze songs Alvvays
Polyvinyl

Alvvays – “In Undertow” (2017)

Steeped in crunchy and dense guitars, Alvvays’ “In Undertow” crafts a trance-like shoegaze approach to the conundrums of modern relationships. As Molly Rankin asks “What’s left of you and me?” a blaze of gritty instrumentals paint a musical landscape of frustration and exhaustion. Rankin’s vocals blend seamlessly with the mixture of synths, feeling easy to fully submerge your consciousness in the experience. The track is produced by John Congleton, whose touch adds just the right amount of clarity, its opening synths bursting with colors like a sunrise. It’s a shimmering track of subdued emotion, pulling back at the right moments, and exploding when it feels good. – Virginia Croft


best shoegaze songs Cloakroom
Relapse

Cloakroom – “Seedless Star” (2017)

Where in prior years, shoegaze would exert itself on post-metal and extreme metal in a fairly one-directional way, being a textural approach for heavy bands, Cloakroom represents a shift in that development, particularly on Time Well standout “Seedless Star.” Depending on who you ask, they have at times been classified as a metal band and, given their hardcore roots and easily tracked down heavier material, that logic makes sense in a way. But sonically, Cloakroom show more equal-footed dialogue between alternative rock and heavy metal in their approach to shoegaze, feeling less like the psychopathically heavy elaborations on the genre by groups like Godflesh and more like a beefy and more bass-driven version of groups like Ride. Their history with heavier music allows Cloakroom to think about filling the sonic spectrum, making the music tangibly physical as much as melodic, which adds to the weighted blanket sensation of these aimless drifting clouds and, in turn, elaborates on a major component of where shoegaze stands today. – Langdon Hickman


best shoegaze songs APTBS
Dead Oceans

A Place to Bury Strangers – “Never Coming Back” (2018)

Here we see the recurring themes of shoegaze and its gothic rock roots emerge once again in the more industrial music-driven period of the genre from the 2010s. “Never Coming Back,” from A Place to Bury Strangers’ 2018 album Pinned, can refer just as much to a perennial high that annihilates consciousness as it can that final annihilator, death. These twin forces, opium and suicide, ecstasy and eternity, are all wrapped up in the sense of losing the body, feeling the tether unwind as your spirit drifts up and away through a dissociative cloud. Don’t get me wrong; there are better songs by this band in the abstract, ones more pleasant to the ear, but very few capture so much about what shoegaze is, both sonically and conceptually, marrying the aesthetic with the poetic to explicate that interior core, quite as well as this. – Langdon Hickman


best shoegaze songs kairon irse
Svart

Kairon; IRSE! – “An Bat None” (2020)

Finland’s Kairon; IRSE! come to shoegaze not directly, but through the parallel avenues of psychedelic and prog rock. The band’s past albums embraced mind-expanding excursions through spaces beyond the conscious mind—sometimes with saxophone! But their 2020 album Polysomn didn’t so much ground them as find them exploring that distant conceptual space at high speeds, blasting through buzzy, guitar-driven nebulae on standout moments like “An Bat None,” a swirling network of heavily distorted guitars, arpeggiated synthesizers and deep pulsing bass that, in its middle section, descends into free-floating ambience. Shoegazing, stargazing, all wrapped up in a miniature interstellar odyssey. -Jeff Terich


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