So a new friend or acquaintance finds out you’re into music. The inevitable question follows: “what kind of music do you like?” How honest are you? Do you simply say, “I like a little bit of everything?” You know that’s not true. You can’t stand Matchbox 20. Do you try something a little more honest, but still generic, like, “mostly rock stuff.” No, that won’t work either–they might think you mean Lynyrd Skynyrd. Or are you blatantly honest with them, knowing they are unlikely to have a clue what you mean: “my favorite genre is probably shoegaze.” What the heck is that?
I first got into the genre probably around 1993 or 94. I’d heard a friend going on and on about this English band called Ride, and I finally decided to check them out. It was love at first listen. All these years later, I still love the stuff. And while at first glance, it might seem that not many people of faith delved into the genre, there is actually a substantial showing of faithful artists who like their guitars layered and their vocals hushed. Here is a sampling of the top shoegaze artists that christendom has to offer.
But before we begin, a slight note of explanation: by using the term “shoegaze” here, I’m being somewhat generous with the term by including artists who fall under the larger umbrella, which includes dream pop, noise pop, space rock, and occasionally post-rock or Neo-psychedelic.
1. Starflyer 59
The first is the best. Despite the hopes and dreams of my friends and I–to be the first Christian band playing in the textured, layered style–SF59 beat us to the punch. What was interesting though was how Jason Martin (whom we knew from Dance House Children) and Andrew Larson incorporated much heavier sounds into the mix, which wasn’t normally a thing in the genre. The only mainstream bands at the time who touched on hard rock were Swervedriver and Catherine Wheel, and Starflyer surpassed them both in heaviness–at times resembling grunge or even post-hardcore. The chromatically-inspired, but never officially-titled “Silver” is still my favorite from the band, even though Martin & co is probably the most prolific chrindie band of all time, and there are no duds among their canon.
2. Lassie Foundation
Shortly after The Prayer Chain (one of my favorite 90s bands) ended, 3/4 of the band ended up in Lassie Foundation. TPC had started out as a good, but somewhat generic alternative rock band, but got more and more experimental as they went (more on that below). So I was pleased as punch when California came out, fusing the noisy guitar tones of mainstream gazers Medicine, layered sounds of My Bloody Valentine, and added to them something unheard of at that time–Beach Boys style vocal harmonies. I mean, their debut EP was called California after all.
Another prolific–even if mysterious–band is LN. Releases range from haunting dream pop to alternative country to flat-out ambient. Furthermore, founder and band leader Gary Murray has pursued some of these genres more fully under different monikers: Gary Murray (alt country) and Lullabies for Houseplants (ambient). All of his efforts are compelling, but I think the debut is the one that has stuck with me the most with its whispered vocals and dreamy, jazzy guitar tones.
4. Velour 100
This Michigan band had strong ties to the mainstream experimental rock scene through founder Trey Many, who had also played with Liquorice and His Name is Alive. The first two releases (full-length Fall Sounds and EP Songs from the Rainwater) both featured vocalist Amon Krist (daughter of famed folk singer Jan Krist) and a dreamy yet folky sound. On the third release Amon was gone, so three different vocalists took turns at the helm (Tess Wiley, formerly of Sixpence and Phantasmic; Sydney from Morella’s Forest; and Karin Olive of His Name is Alive). Of Color Bright also featured a sound that delved even more deeply into shoegaze.
5. The Choir
Another band featured here who competes in the longevity/prolificness category is the Choir (FKA Youth Choir). Active since the mid-80s, the band dabbled with new wave, post-punk, alternative rock, folk–all while sounding distinctly like The Choir. For 1990’s critically-acclaimed Circle Slide album, the band piled on layers and layers of guitars, ethereal loops, and Derri’s signature soft vocal sound. While the album is the only one of their canon with the shoegaze/dream pop sound, its classic nature and broad appeal to fans and critics alike warrant inclusion here.
6. Morella’s Forest
This Dayton, OH band borrowed their name from a long-forgotten project of Ronnie (Joy Electric) and Jason Martin. For a relatively small city, Dayton had a huge indie rock scene, particularly in the noise pop subgenre. While subsequent releases strayed more and more into other forms of indie pop, Morella’s Forest’s debut reveled heavily in the noise pop end of the shoegaze pool.
7. Common Children
Common Children’s debut album Skywire was straight-up grunge. To be fair, it was very good grunge, but it was grunge nonetheless. Then they surprised us all on their sophomore album with strings, layers, and contemplative lyrics. The trend towards experimentalism carried on with their third album The Inbetween Time, where the arrangements got denser and sparser all at the same time. Hushed vocals met with effects and ethereal, layered guitars. This was no longer a hard rock band. Band leader Marc Byrd continued to get even more experimental via his instrumental post-rock band Hammock.
8. Raspberry Jam
Raspberry Jam started as a jangly, funky alternative rock band. While their debut Chi-Rho was fun, it didn’t have a lot of musical substance behind it. Oceanic sounded like it was from a different band altogether. Following a similar musical trajectory as peers The Prayer Chain and Common Children, they got more experimental and spacious following a debut that was good in and of itself, but relatively standard. The follow-up played with textures, layers, and managed to create space between the instruments, hinting at space rock and shoegaze equally, while never losing their worshipful impetus.
9. The Prayer Chain
We’ve already made allusions to the Chain multiple times. Their impact on Christian alternative and indie rock is hard to overstate. They toured like beasts, and though their output was limited, each of their core releases were highly influential. Like Common Children and Raspberry Jam above, The Prayer Chain began playing a good, but very standard form of alternative rock, often influenced by grunge. Then when their third label release (2nd full-length) dropped, it was like they pulled out all the stops, all the influences and just created something straight off of another planet. Although this is an article about shoegaze, Mercury actually defies categorization. It went beyond shoegaze and into new territory heretofore unheard, pushing the boundaries of even space rock. Unfortunately the unhinged creativity caused the band to implode–or so it seems–as it was the last proper studio album they recorded, not counting Antarctica, a collection of outtakes and unreleased b-sides.
Honey released three albums across their career, and had roots in an indie band called Mr I, where they had already gotten some attention in the press from fellow Chicagoan John J. Thompson and his zine True Tunes News. While their debut for Sub-Lime Records Lovely hinted at the brilliance that was to come, it featured a synth-heavy alternative pop sound. Lost on You went full on into shoegazey dream pop territory with a worshipful and/or romantic feel. Actually, I think it was both at the same time, as the album seemed to be a celebration of love–love of God and spouse.
Releasing only one full-length (the diverse and excellent The Day the Colors Died for Brainstorm) and one EP (self-titled on Velvet Blue Music), Bloomsday made a huge impact on alternative music, even if they remained obscure. The debut dabbled in just about every alternative rock subgenre active at the time–lo-fi, shoegaze, emo, jangle pop, true indie rock, etc. Then the follow-up EP took a different direction and created a unique mix of shoegaze and emo that I’ve never heard replicated elsewhere–I dubbed it “mood rock.” Band leader Blake Westcott later turned up all over the place, with credits in Pedro the Lion, Saltine, Seldom, Denison Witmer, Aaron Sprinkle, Damien Jurado and more. For my money, the Bloomsday EP is one of the most fantastic things our scene ever produced.
11. Ester Drang
Arising from the fertile Tulsa alternative scene came Ester Drang. From humble beginnings on a tiny indie label out of north Texas to multiple full-lengths on mainstream Jade Tree Records, Ester Drang certainly made an impact. Their breakthrough album was on well-respected Burnt Toast Vinyl. Goldenwest featured pop melodies, echoed and layered but clean guitars and other-worldly vocals.
While list articles are fun, they often induce a love/hate relationship. For some readers, we will have inspired you to check out some artists you were otherwise unfamiliar with. Others will be angry that I’ve left off one of your favorites, hence why we have not called this “the best” or “greatest” or anything similar. Still, if you want to dig even deeper, here are a few more artists* who have dabbled in shoegaze, dream pop, post-rock, indie pop, Neo-psychedelic, space rock, noise pop and/or neo-Britpop. May you follow where the rabbit trail leads. And let me know what I’ve missed–I’m also on the lookout for more shoegaze!
The Brothers Martin
the violet burning
Circle of Birds
*Slight disclaimer: all of the artists mentioned here have some connection to the Christian scene, but may or may not identify as Christian artists. Please use your own discretion. Additionally, many of these artists have played in a number of different genres, so we are not claiming that all of their material is relevant to the shoegaze scene.