Diving Deep into Shoegaze

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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.

3. LN

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.

10. Honey

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.

10. Bloomsday

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.

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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!

Cush
Pony Express
Nova Satori
Stranger Kings
The Brothers Martin
Bon Voyage
The Autumns
Sereena Maneesh
Hammock
The Julies
the violet burning
Native Lights
Unwed Sailor
The Billions
Driver Eight
Kosmos Express
Fine China
Circle of Birds
Saxon Shore
Map
Fold Zandura
Charity Empressa

*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.

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Paul Leader
Paul Leader
October 4, 2021 2:06 am

Finnish band Revival Hymns should definitely get a mention here. Excellent dream pop/shoegaze music. https://revivalhymns.bandcamp.com/album/birth-pains

thenorthseas
thenorthseas
September 15, 2021 1:39 am

Would Driver Eight be considered in this discussion? The album Watermelon has noisy elements that remind me of shoegaze. I could be wrong, though.

Tim Ramgren
Tim Ramgren
September 12, 2021 5:49 pm

How about Dumpster? Australian band that put out an awesome album called See Through Me

Tim Ramgren
Tim Ramgren
September 14, 2021 8:47 pm
Reply to  Loyd Harp

Serene?

Tim Ramgren
Tim Ramgren
September 30, 2021 8:55 pm
Reply to  Loyd Harp
JMac
JMac
September 16, 2021 7:22 am
Reply to  Tim Ramgren

Still listen to Dumpster occasionally. See Through Me is an amazing album. Too bad the band name was so bad. Man, I thought I was the only human being who remembered this band.

Tim Ramgren
Tim Ramgren
September 30, 2021 8:57 pm
Reply to  JMac

Ditto on thinking I was only one. Great stuff and criminally unknown. Wish they put out more

dcg
dcg
September 11, 2021 9:41 pm

dcg
dcg
September 11, 2021 9:40 pm

One more worth checking out- MRENC

dcg
dcg
September 11, 2021 8:43 pm

dcg
dcg
September 11, 2021 8:34 pm

Check out Deserta and their debut album “Black Aura My Son”. Also they just released a new single from an upcoming album!

dcg
dcg
September 12, 2021 8:15 pm
Reply to  Loyd Harp

I don’t think so. The brains of this group is one of my favorite musicians. He was a founding member of Saxon Shore- indie rock instrumental band. I love that band and have kept up with his musical adventures since then.

Dawson
Dawson
September 11, 2021 4:36 pm

You missed the first Viva Voce album! (Hooray For Now)

Tim Ramgren
Tim Ramgren
September 30, 2021 9:01 pm
Reply to  Dawson

AWESOME album! I just learned they have a lot more music on Bandcamp. Their version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman is truly stellar!!

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