The Agit Reader

Various Artists
Still In a Dream

March 14th, 2016  |  by Stephen Slaybaugh

Still In a DreamThough its heyday lasted just a few years, the so-called shoegaze movement of the early ’90s has continued to have a lasting effect on the music made in the subsequent decades. In recent years, one wouldn’t have to look very hard to hear the influence, with bands like A Place to Bury Strangers, Dum Dum Girls, and Beach House (to name just a few) owing an obvious debt to the era. Unsurprisingly, many of the bands first labeled “shoegaze” for their habit of looking at their guitar effects while playing—My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive, etc.—have joined the lucrative reunion circuit, resurfacing to perform and/or make new albums.

While the thick layers of guitar favored by the shoegazers would seem to stem from exposure to aggressive American bands like Sonic Youth, Husker Du, and Dinosaur Jr, these artists weren’t entirely disconnected from the British trends of the time. Like the acid house craze of the late ’80s and the “Madchester” sound at the turn of the decade, shoegaze’s ethereal haze was also no doubt partially a result of the psychedelic ’60s revivalism occurring on both sides of the pond.

Somewhere in that mix to varying degrees was also the post-punk of the past 20 years, with The Jesus and Mary Chain and the Cocteau Twins as yin and yang spiritual forefathers to the shoegazers. It is there that Still In a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988–1995, the superb new five-disc on the era from Cherry Red Records, rightfully begins. Taken from the latter portion of both bands’ careers, the JAMC’s “Rollercoaster” and the Cocteaus’ “Cherry-Coloured Funk” aren’t perhaps the best examples of the traits the bands held in common with their progeny, but they nevertheless point the set in the right direction. Better is The House of Love’s “Christine,” one of the most glorious meldings of heartbreak and guitar maelstrom ever set to wax, and preceding the movement by a couple years, a shoegaze prototype. The first disc also includes cuts from psychedelic precursors Spacemen 3 and Loop, as well as The Telescopes, who predated “the scene that celebrates itself,” but eventually seemed to assimilate into it.

As Neil Taylor details in his intro in the box’s liner notes, shoegaze began its ascent in 1990 and peaked in the summer of 1991. As such, the second disc captures many of big acts of the era. (The tracklisting is arranged chronologically.) Ride leads it off with “Drive Blind,” and cuts from Lush, Cranes, Chapterhouse, Swervedriver, and Slowdive are also included. (My Bloody Valentine is conspicuously absent, however.) Everyone remembers those names, though, so it’s the lesser-known and lesser-heard bands that add depth to this set. Ireland’s Whipping Boy, Dutch quartet Nightblooms, and The Charlottes (from Cambridge) all provide cuts worth remembering.

But as my editor at The Big Takeover, Jack Rabid, points out in his accompanying essay, shoegaze’s reach extended to America, although pre-internet, it took a little longer to get here. Yank bands are well-represented, with tracks from Galaxie 500, Velocity Girl, Swirlies, and The Lilys sprinkled amongst the five CDs. (Surprisingly, Rabid’s Springhouse isn’t included.) Though by September 1992 British music weekly Melody Maker was asking, “Whatever happened to shoegaze?” it continued to exist on the periphery at home and abroad, perhaps never truly disappearing altogether.

As Still In a Dream illustrates, despite the somewhat pejorative tag, the shoegaze era was responsible for a sound that resonated long after it seemingly dissipated. Taking cues from the psychedelic era, but eschewing the tired hippy cliches for a modern, demure coolness, it appealed to a new generation looking to turn on. With the rush of unhinged guitars, shoegaze was at once visceral and heady. It’s no surprise that new generations have returned to these records as lysergic inspiration, and for a vast overview, there are few better places to turn than Still In a Dream.

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