The 1990s saw Grunge and Britpop shatter the UK with probably the last interesting chart battles that will ever grip us: Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam, Blur vs. Oasis, Take That vs. Mr. Blobby.
Before this though, there was a wave of important bands infatuated with forcing dreamy, reverb-tinged noise from their Fender Jazzmasters.
Shoegaze was the term thrown at these bands, merging sounds of British post-punk bands like The Cocteau Twins and Wire, with a more psychedelic, breezy sound and distant attitude.
Here are eight essential albums attributed to the genre, remaining some of the most influential, revered records to come out of both the UK and America in the last thirty years.
My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)
Loveless is the record that famously nearly killed Creation Records founder Alan McGee. It took two years, nineteen studios and an alleged £250,000 to finish, deteriorating the bands relationship with McGee, almost ruining Creation in the process. Kevin Shields became obsessed with a vision of creating an endless wall of sound that would induce a trance like state in the listener. The result was a genre-defining record that would come to exemplify the shoegaze genre, achieve cult status, and influence almost every guitarist with a pedal board. Shields would go on to score Sofia Coppola’s ground-breaking Lost in Translation in 2003.
Slowdive – Souvlaki (1993)
Slowdive’s second album is where it all started coming together for the Reading band. Soothingly washed-out rock, with a delicacy that proved that the best was yet to come from the tail-end of punk. Unlike other music being made behind guitars during the late eighties and early nineties, Souvlaki refuses to sound dated or wrong. Alison drifts in slowly like a quiet daydream, with clean, floating melodies and a pureness that will sound relevant until the world ends – and when it does, Souvlaki will make for the perfect soundtrack.
Diiv – Oshin (2012)
Zachary Cole Smith is best known for being the driving force behind Beach Fossil’s seminal self-titled record in 2010. Three years after its release he was caught in possession of heroin whilst driving with his girlfriend Sky Ferreira, the beginning of a turbulent few years for the model-turned-musician. He formed Diiv in 2001 as a solo project, named in ode to the Nirvana song Dive, releasing the beautiful, dream-pop inspired Oshin in mid-2013. The record is a loose journey through the subtle parts of heroin pop, with smooth, gazey guitar tones almost drowning Smith’s obscured vocals.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – Psychocandy (1985)
Easily one of the most influential records of the 1980s, Psychocandy is still the cornerstone for countless bands attributed to the shoegaze genre. In 1980, Jim and William Reid quit their jobs to start The Jesus and Mary Chain, taking influence from German industrial rock, girl group The Shangri-Las, and The Velvet Underground. Alan McGee was eventually passed early demos by the band and signed them to Creation, with their debut album Pyschocandy being offered as “bubblegum pop drowned in feedback”. They say honey never spoils, well Psychocandy really is Just Like Honey.
Ride – Nowhere (1990)
Ride recorded their near-perfect debut album with producer Marc Waterman during the summer of 1990. Sadly, Waterman suffered a mental breakdown during the mixing stages and Alan Moulder stepped in to finish it. Unlike counterparts My Bloody Valentine, the beauty of Ride lies in the stainless craft of their songwriting, owing less to disturbances in sound and overdriven scream of endless instrumentation, and more to the genius of the structure and melody of the songs. Nowhere remains both a crucial and dynamic record, one that pushed boundaries and twisted genre.
Title Fight – Hyperview (2014)
Title Fight’s third LP is easily their finest. 2012’s Floral Green saw the band start to flirt with a heavier, sparser sound than their debut Shed – with songs like ‘Head In The Ceiling Fan’ and ‘Lefty’ taking huge influence from bands like Dinosaur Jr and Slowdive. Released early 2014, Hyperview took this experimentation a step further, with Will Yip’s sublime production and a lucid, transparent approach to song arrangements making for a sound that feels like it is drowning in a wave of reverb and melancholy. Title Fight really found themselves on Hyperview, and it’s one of the most beautiful, rare records to come out of the punk scene for a very long time.
Dinosaur Jr. – Bug (1988)
Bug remains Dinasaur Jr’s most melodic, conventional record in the pop sense, yet somehow it manages something perfect and unique. Songs are frantic and agile, with restless overdriven guitars driving the record both elegantly and aimlessly. It evokes emotions from both sides of the spectrum, with dreamy choruses soaring with an uptight sullenness, forcing the record into musical corners not many bands have explored since. Bug’s influence has been immeasurable, namely on Title Fight’s Hyperview.
The Verve – A Storm In Heaven (1993)
The Verve are often thrown into a very Britpop centric account of recent music history and, as a result, their debut album still goes largely unnoticed. A Storm in Heaven’s layered guitars, draining vocals and nerve splittingly emotional sound transcended a lot of other albums being made in the UK during the early 90s, with its psychedelia-tinged, minimalist sound taking equal influence from the grunge and shoegaze coming out of America, and the sound of 1960s British bands like Cream and The Yardirds. Considered both their best and worst record, depending on who you ask, A Storm in Heaven undoubtably remains one the most important, underrated British albums of the last two decades.
Featured image by deepskyobject via Flickr CC