In 10 Songs is an entry point to tracing musical trends and exploring artist discographies. Today, we look at shoegaze’s second wind.
It’s almost funny to think how angry some of shoegaze’s detractors were in the early ’90s: “‘Sing’ aside, I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again,” said a writer for Melody Maker, a then-influential British music publication, about Slowdive’s seminal 1993 album Souvlaki. This was a style of dream pop that was as abrasive as it was sedative, that showed the lines between sadness and bliss were thinner than ever. But after the British press deemed shoegaze as “The Scene That Celebrated Itself,” there was a perception that shoegaze was an inherently selfish, inaccessible art form that wallowed for the sake of wallowing and would soon burn out like other trends.
In a way, they were right. The fervor around shoegazers — a title given to bands with this specific, ethereal sonic style, who spent stage time managing their pedalboards instead of connecting with the audience — began to decline in the mid ’90s after Britpop and grunge’s ascension. Meanwhile, shoegaze pioneers My Bloody Valentine called it quits, Slowdive shifted gears with the experimental (and mostly panned) Pygmalion, and the appropriately-named Lush abandoned the genre altogether. By 1998, shoegaze had become merely a youthful memory.
But as history has shown us, one generation’s trash can become another’s treasure. The fundamentals of shoegaze — loud, washy guitars, wispy vocals, wall-of-sound production, and stoner-friendly pop melodies — became appropriated by newer classes of musicians throughout the ensuing decades. Shoegaze began to see some small revival efforts throughout the 2000s from the likes of M83, The Radio Dept., and My Vitriol. And when the streaming era arrived and My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive mounted successful reunions throughout the 2010s, interest in the genre skyrocketed.
Now shoegaze is beloved by Gen Z, appearing frequently on TikTok and inspiring young, rising musicians. As genres blend together at a faster rate than ever before, shoegaze has not been merely imitated — it’s been expanded. While emo acts in the 2000s wouldn’t have touched the kind of reverb pedals associated with shoegaze, they certainly do now; meanwhile, black metal bands Deafheaven and Alcest helped popularize shoegaze fundamentals within a heavy metal presentation.
From around 2012 until today, shoegaze has transformed from its origins in moody British basements to a global phenomenon. Read our guide of the 10 most essential shoegaze revival tracks below, and scroll to the end for a playlist of every track.
Basement — “Covet” — Colourmeinkindness (2012)
Shoegaze is an expressive subgenre, and the walls of fuzz, careful crafting of tones, and washed-out vocals always lent themselves to feelings of overwhelming melancholy. So, it was only a matter of time until someone ramped up the angst, got a little more aggressive with their delivery, and sprinkled some hardcore/emo garnish on top of their shoegaze sundae. From Balance and Composure to Citizen to Title Fight (stay tuned), bands were increasingly exorcising their emotional turmoil through the healing nature of a robust pedalboard.
Basement’s “Covet” is one of the finest, most immediate examples of this stylistic crossover — so much so that the song has found a second wind on TikTok ten years after its initial release. The nuts and bolts of the tune are simple; it’s a tried-and-true chord progression (citation), and the quiet-loud-quiet dynamic structure has been a winning formula since before Nevermind. Basement knows this, subsequently using these tools to craft a song that’s emotionally gutting, stylistically interesting, and catchy as all hell. It’s a perfect pop tune, a perfect emo tune, and — yes — a perfect shoegaze tune. — Jonah Krueger
My Bloody Valentine — “only tomorrow” — m b v (2013)
My Bloody Valentine’s frequently delayed third album was a revelation upon release. After the band’s initial reunion in 2008, the hype had been building , and considering the perfectionist attitudes of bandleader Kevin Shields, it was easy to feel that their catalogue would live and die by Loveless and their debut, Isn’t Anything. And yet, m b v serves as another singular, deeply evocative effort from the Irish-English quartet. With so many dreamy, irresistible jams, it’s tough to nail down the essential offering from m b v — but its centerpiece has to be “only tomorrow.”
Whereas Loveless was tangled in a thick web of sound, “only tomorrow” finds dozens of small moments to offer the clarity of a resolving guitar chord and escalating screeches that ramp up the song’s emotion. Not only is “only tomorrow” downright hypnotic, it presents My Bloody Valentine as masters at advancing ideas from 20 years prior — they must have known deep down that the world was not finished with My Bloody Valentine, and luckily, they weren’t finished either. — P. Ragusa
Pity Sex — “Wind Up” — Feast of Love (2013)
Much like how the tones of shoegaze had successfully seduced emo-leaning bands, a sect of indie and alternative rock acts eventually fell head-over-heels for the genre’s expansive, playful sonic palette. Taking pop notes from acts like Cocteau Twins and experimental inspiration from records like velocity : design : comfort., bands began to find novel ways to combine sweetly sung melodies with noisy, crushing, somehow also sweet instrumentals.
Bands like Ovlov, Stove, and Pity Sex conducted their genre alchemy by looking to the guitar gods of indie’s past (Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr.), resulting in mountains of overdriven guitars, driving bass, and sticky melodic hooks. “Wind Up” showcases exactly that, with its propulsive pace, understated lead vocals, and wah-heavy guitar solo. It’s at once as sweet as candy and as heavy as a stone — a contradiction we simply can’t get enough of. — J. Krueger
Title Fight — “Chlorine” — Hyperview (2015)
Before their 2015 album Hyperview, Title Fight were a band lumped into a general hardcore scene that spent their summers shredding on Warped Tour stages. But Hyperview changed everything for Title Fight, so much so that it would become their final album. It was a notable combination of shoegaze with the angst-addled power of their previous emo works, creating a swirling, active sound.
“Chlorine,” the album’s first single, represents the band’s dramatic shift towards a softer, fuzzier dynamic. While the emotion that propels “Chlorine” is evident in the fraught guitars and structural switch-ups, Ned Russin’s vocals are slightly distant and resigned. That sense of resignation is key; Shoegaze operates best when it creates distance between inner emotional life and the outward presentation of those feelings, like the only way to cope with pain is to be softly numb. “Chlorine,” Hyperview, and the album’s versatile producer Will Yip would go on to influence a new generation of emo and hardcore acts that embrace this kind of hazy distance, from Turnover’s dream pop pivot to Hundredth’s shoegaze reinvention. — P. Ragusa
Slowdive – “Star Roving” – Slowdive (2017)
Rarely has a band’s first single in 22 years been this refreshing. After a lauded reunion effort in 2014, Slowdive resurfaced in January 2017 with “Star Roving,” the lead single of their stunning self-titled fourth album. If the song’s name suggests a “cosmic journey,” you’re correct — “Star Roving” is a psychedelic rush that feels like you’ve arrived at the center of a supernova. But with all the abstract, ethereal energy charging through “Star Roving,” there’s still an unmistakeable touch of the real and grounded.
It’s evident in the exhilarating guitars, which interlock so seductively that when Neil Halstead brings the song’s primal riff down the octave in the middle of the phrase, it’s like you’ve fallen three floors down and landed on a bed of warm blankets. It’s also in Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s harmonized vocals, which Goswell then takes in the round for the final verse to create a swirling, hypnotic effect. While Slowdive and shoegaze overall are often described as drenched in sadness, “Star Roving” burns with brightness. It’s a dopamine-driven shoegaze classic of the modern age, and it positioned the reunited Slowdive as both past and present phenoms. — P. Ragusa
Wolf Alice – “Heavenward” – Visions of a Life (2017)
To see how viable shoegaze had become in 2017, look no further than Wolf Alice’s “Heavenward,” the opening song off the British quartet’s Mercury Prize-winning sophomore album, Visions of a Life. When Wolf Alice first appeared, they were labeled as ’90s alt-rock revivalists, leaning into fuzzy guitars beneath ethereal vocals. They reach their maximum shoegaze potential on “Heavenward,” which is nothing short of angelic.
Vocalist Ellie Rowsell doesn’t exactly mourn the loss of a friend, she exudes her spirit; the band rages on into shimmering, electrifying shapes, letting the song contract and expand as they shift from chord to chord. Though it didn’t earn the breakout success of previous album cut “Moaning Lisa Smile” or fellow Visions single “Don’t Delete the Kisses,” it nevertheless feels like a statement piece from a band who, at that point in time, had a significant amount of pressure on their shoulders to be the next great British rock act. “Heavenward” is Wolf Alice’s vow to remain true to their tastes, and a testament to their ability to conjure entrancing, blissful sonics whenever necessary. — P. Ragusa
Sasami – “Callous” – SASAMI (2019)
Few subgenres can capture jaded yearning like shoegaze does; My Bloody Valentine picked the title Loveless for a reason. And while Sasami Ashworth has come into her own as a distinguishable artist, even she’s let those pangs of heartache muddle her identity from time to time. “I lost my calluses for you/ And you didn’t even think to ask me how my day was,” she coos to some loser on her debut solo single “Callous,” evoking both the vaporous atmosphere of Broadcast and the melodic noise of Sweet Trip.
A callus is evidence of repetitive exertion – whether formed by manual labor, sports, or strumming a (preferably loud, pedal-boosted) guitar – and often useful in abating pain. As Ashworth puts it, losing her calluses is an indicator of losing herself. But callous is what she might call this person who doesn’t give a shit about her in return, who makes her feel small, who gets right to the center of that ache. Ashworth’s identity isn’t completely squandered, however, as she seemingly fuels her self-assuredness with an eruption of synths, horns, and splashy percussion. After all, you need a pretty thick skin to walk away from someone who’s taken a part of you. — Abby Jones
Weatherday – “Come In” – Come In (2019)
By 2019, indie rock had well and fully buddied up with shoegaze. Pity Sex and Ovlov had become staples in certain circles of the underground, and as more and more artists took to self-producing their work from the comfort of their bedroom, shoegaze’s embrace of fuzz and noise proved to be just as practical as it was trendy. Recording on budget equipment and tackling the mixing/mastering process yourself is a lot more forgiving when the result is supposed to be a little rough around the edges.
Enter a new wave of young indie acts self-publishing their music and growing their audience through various musical forums. With three knocks and the invitation to “come in,” Weatherday, in particular, became DIY heroes to a group of young, extremely online music fans — and for good reason. “Come In” is immediately exhilarating, with a thick layer of compressed fuzz covering everything from the pounding drums to the wailing lead guitar to the raw vocals. Whether it’s shoegaze via intention or shoegaze via necessity (or, likely, a mix of both), it’s a sound the modern underground has fully embraced — as seen in recent releases from acts like Computerwife, Asian Glow, or Hotline TNT — and thank god for that. — J. Krueger
Parannoul — “”아름다운 세상 (Beautiful World)” — To See the Next Part of the Dream (2021)
In its very nature, shoegaze is advantageous to inconspicuousness, whether your words are muddled by roaring guitars or you go the Cocteau Twins route and create words entirely your own. Maybe that’s why Parannoul, the anonymous self-proclaimed loser who became a runaway Bandcamp success, leans on the subgenre so heavily. In the notes to his 2021 album To See to the Next Part of the Dream, he laments that those dreams – of achieving rock stardom, of possessing artistic excellence, of just feeling OK for once — are impossible.
Avoiding the guise of a Reddit stereotype, Parannoul works with his so-called weaknesses instead of against them, particularly so on album opener “아름다운 세상 (Beautiful World).” He says he’s no guitar master and that he has a “fucking awful” singing voice, so he distorts both to oblivion, embellishes them with synths, and punctuates them with breakneck drums until those minutiae don’t matter. Maybe Parannoul won’t ever tour the globe – maybe we won’t ever even find out his actual name – but, hey, the shy kids need a stage, too. — A. Jones
Wednesday — “Bull Believer” — Rat Saw God (2023)
Asheville, North Carolina’s Wednesday — Consequence‘s April 2023 CoSign — are among the newest class of shoegazers to take the genre into even more stylized territory. Their 2023 album Rat Saw God is an expansive, evocative rock record, filled with fuzzy, southern-fried riffs and a sound that decays and erodes in real time. “Bull Believer,” the album’s scorching, multi-part centerpiece, chugs along with charged transitions and fleeting moments of clarity before decomposing into a slow-burning, carnal meltdown.
This is a song where peace and agony are interchangeable, where twinkling guitar riffs are treated with the same emphasis as visceral feedback. While Wednesday have been given the relatively new label of “countrygaze,” “Bull Believer” is an example of shoegaze’s past and future emerging to become one messy, cathartic firework. When vocalist Karly Hartzman rises above a wall of crushing noise to screech “finish him!” in the song’s final third, the immediacy of their songwriting is on full display, turning the woozy musings of the song’s earlier parts into a liberating nightmare. — P. Ragusa
The Shoegaze Revival in 10 Songs Spotify Playlist: