Shoegaze is alive and well and living in my mp3 library

Back in 1991, when I was at college in Boston and Nevermind was on superduper heavy rotation on WFNX alongside Soundgarden and Alice in Chains and all the other northwestern bands, I found myself shifting in the opposite direction, looking eastward over the ocean and listening to the sounds of roaring walls of wobbly guitar noise from My Bloody Valentine and Ride. There was just something about the otherworldly dreaminess of the sounds of the Creation, 4AD and Rough Trade labels. Grunge was alright and all, but it couldn’t hold a candle to my beloved shoegaze.

In 2019, having become a constant listener to Seattle’s KEXP, I realized that shoegaze wasn’t just experiencing a small comeback over the past few years. There were more bands out there embracing that wall-of-reverb sound than the previous years, and they were all releasing singles and albums that were absolutely fantastic. They weren’t just emulating the sounds of 1991…they were owning it and making it their own. And they weren’t just from the UK, either…they were from all over the world.

We have Dead Horse One from Valence in southern France…

We have Lo! Peninsula, from Imphal, India…

We have Tallies, from Toronto, Canada…

We have Pinkshinyultrablast from St Petersburg, Russia…

We have Deserta from Los Angeles, CA…

I never get sick of this sound. Sure, it’s essentially the MBV-tested equation of playing augmented guitar chords, fed through heavy reverb, turned way the fuck up high, and the extremely liberal use of the whammy bar to achieve that soaring wobble. But man, it’s that dreaminess the sound achieves that just hits all the right buttons for me.

And I love that it’s alive and well, and all over the world.

Synthpop Has Returned and I Am Here for It

I should have seen the signs when Davey and Jade from AFI decided to plug in their old-school synths and create Blaqk Audio and have a minor hit with “Stiff Kittens” back in 2007. It’s equal parts darkwave goth and emocore and it sounds like they’d been mainlining their 80s Belgian techno.

Considering I grew up listening to the original stuff on college radio back in the 80s and loved it, I of course gravitated to the new waves of New Wave each time they splashed ashore. They may not have been giant surges, but they always tended to stick around in one form or another.

For a while we saw a number of bands with a form a lazy dreampop like Small Black, or the splashy sound of Bear in Heaven, or the cinematic widescreen of M83:

(Mad props to them for channeling Akira in this particular video, by the way.)

We’ve also seen an uptick of the synth-duo band dynamic, such as Tanlines, MS MR, Bob Moses, and Public Service Broadcasting:

And of course there’s the one-man synth performer Robert DeLong who plays every instrument himself, often all at the same time, many of them consisting of kludged-together video game consoles and joysticks:

Synthpop seems to have finally gained more ground over the last year or so, as I’ve been seeing an uptick of records by performers and bands with a love for that classic 80s synth sound. Many of them are even channeling some of the more obscure goth and darkwave bands such as Xymox, Red Flag and Red Lorry Yellow Lorry such as Drab Majesty and Boy Harsher:

I’m drawn to this sound partly because of its spot-on retro inspiration, but also because it’s exactly the kind of stuff I’d listen to during my writing sessions. I’m about to create another playlist for Mendaihu Universe Book Four (Songs from the Eden Cycle Vol 6, if you’re playing along).

Some people may see this synth sound as sterile, or just another alt-rock hybrid, but I’m here for it regardless. It’s fun, it’s moody, and it’s creative. And I’ll be honest, I wish I had the money and technical mind to buy me one of those synths and record my own stuff. For now, though, I’ll stick with grooving along to these albums on my headphones at the gym or at my PC in Spare Oom, waiting for more.