Shoegaze – An Angelic Process
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Recently, My Bloody Valentine released M B V, their third full-length that many thought would never grace the public's ears. Without getting into a dissertation, it's a fine album that suffers from the fact that its predecessor is Loveless. Naturally, they're getting a lot of press. Kevin Shields and his cohorts have earned it, but while they're unquestioned innovators, they're not the center of the universe. There's a whole world of shoegaze out there, some heavy, some weird, all beautiful.
Shoegaze has especially permeated metal since the latter half of the '00s, as evidenced by the success of Alcest, Junius, and Deafheaven. Slowdive's Neal Halstead is even playing on Alcest's next record. This isn't all new, though. When I interviewed Torche's then-guitarist Juan Montoya for my college paper ages ago, he recalled seeing members of Obituary at a My Bloody Valentine show. Having trouble imagining the dudes behind Cause of Death jamming out to Loveless? You shouldn't. Next to metal, shoegaze might be the most guitar-dense form of music out there. Here are a few of those bands pushing boundaries and are worthy of as much attention as My Bloody Valentine.
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THE ANGELIC PROCESS
Profound Lore is considered the standard for high-quality metal these days, but their finest moment came early in its inception with the release of The Angelic Process' Weighing Souls With Sand in 2007. Shoegaze is known for its layers upon layers of treated guitars, but few groups had emotional weight like The Angelic Process did. Like a blown-out Red House Painters, there's a deep sadness that informs the songs of Kris Angylus and Monica Henson. Valleys of subdued bliss crash with overwhelming surges of amplifier worship. When they pound their guitars, you can't help but imagine the duo jerking around frantically and physically mauling their instruments. “Million Year Summer” is the group's “Only Shallow”, distilling their sound into essence in less than four minutes. Souls ended up being the group's coda, as Angylus died on April 26, 2008. It's often useless to think about “What if . . . ,” but even I wonder what The Angelic Process would put out if they were still around.
Releasing an album in December can be a killer. Year-end lists, even for blogs who don't have to deal with print schedules, have already been written. People are sick of the current year and clamor for a new beginning. Minneapolis's Dreamless suffered this fate in 2011, with their debut All This Sorrow, All These Knives released just days before Christmas. Many are still sleeping on this record, and they really shouldn't, because this an exquisite marriage of metal and shoegaze. Most bands that try to combine the two add a little crunch, add a little prettiness, but not enough of either. Dreamless, on the other hand, PLAY like a metal band that's been given the keys to Kevin Shields' gear room. This is none more evident than on Knives' closer, “Drown My Soul”, perhaps worthy of the term “ethereal thrash”. Another highlight is “Discordance”, an ascending and accelerating piece that has vocalist/guitarist Cory Strand's voice almost blending in with the chaos. I interviewed the group extensively about a year ago, where they talk about Chloe Sevigny, metal, and shoegaze as negation of ego, and why Glenn Benton shouldn't sing about his personal life.
Lovesliescrushing came up around the same time as My Bloody Valentine, but took a radically different approach to shoegaze. My Bloody Valentine were a pop group beneath all those pedals. Lovesliescrushing have no use for structure. Comprised of multi-instrumentalist Scott Cortez and vocalist Melissa Arpin-Duimstra, they create otherworldly aural landscapes with blissful waves of noise. It's the “800% SLOWED DOWN OMG” phase, except they beat everyone else to the punch two decades before hand and did it a million times better. Can't decipher what Arpin-Duimstra is saying? No matter, it's still the most soothing voice of all. Some might say this is what being in the womb sounds like, it's got that enveloping warmth. If the initial rise of shoegaze was meant to showcase the limits of what one can do with guitars and amplification, Lovesliescrushing set out to make listeners wonder if their instruments were actually earthbound. 1993's Bloweyelashwish – they really don't like space bars – is the best starting point for this band. Also, Handmade Birds (R. Loren knows his 'gaze) put out Shiny Tiny Stars last year, a collection of unreleased songs dating back before Bloweyelashwish. Most of Lovesliescrushing's songs lean on the short side, but longer compositions make up Stars. They're just as engrossing as any of their material. Closer “Overdose” is truth in advertising, a bender of heavenly voice and guitar that simmers and shimmers.
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Lovesliescrushing - "Overdose"
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Lovesliescrushing - "Babybreath"
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Cortez doesn't limit his talents to Lovesliescrushing. He's got another project, Astrobrite, which aims to be poppier. Of course, “poppier” is relative here, as it's still denser than anything Ride or Chapterhouse have released. Lovesliescrushing's freeform glides of guitar and vocals permeate through Astrobrite, but the presence of beats and some sense of structure give this project a different spin on the Cortez sound. The intro of “Silvery and Starless” reminds me both of the Mellotron from Genesis' “Watcher of the Skies” and Van Halen's solo guitar piece “Cathedral”. Quite sublime. Cortez's music, in both Astrobrite and Lovesliescrushing, is like the second wave of black metal in that it uses end products of industrialization to lull listeners into a pre-industrial trance. Put on your headphones and forget about your modern problems.
Christian shoegaze? It exists, and it's no surprise that Starflyer 59's earliest material came out on Tooth and Nail. While the group have long since shifted their sound, their first two full-lengths, Silver and Gold, are shoegaze essentials. Their spiritual views may be a turn off for some, and their name couldn't be any more '90s, but they've got solid songcraft and a distinct sadcore influence to back up their Christian overtones. Cosmic Hearse convinced me. Think of them as the shoegaze equivalent of Trouble's Psalm 9 or John Coltrane's A Love Supreme – religious works that are at once passionate and accessible enough to appeal to secular audiences. Furthering the Trouble comparsion, “Blue Collar Love” from Silver has some righteous crunch. In this instance, Jesus is just all right with me.
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Starflyer 59 - "Blue Collar Love"
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You may have heard of Whirr, most likely because of their guitarist Nick Bassett's involvement with Deafheaven. They're perhaps the most conventional of the shoegaze groups listed here, and while they're not exactly reinventing anything, they've got good tunes, plain and simple. Also, for any of you brave/dumb enough to attend SXSW this year, Whirr will be at the festival. One of their shows is an all-day rager at Club 1808 with A Life Once Lost, Power Trip, Call of the Void, Full of Hell, Kill The Client, and much more.