Sunday, October 16, 2005

Unfamiliar (Shoegaze Part 4)

For the remainder of the shoegaze retrospective, I will only be linking people or references which have not already been covered in parts 1-3. Please check the archives. The complete retrospective will be compiled into one post when it's finished -- it looks like there will be six or seven parts.


When most people talk about shoegaze, the first band they mention is My Bloody Valentine (MBV). MBV formed in 1984, making fairly conventional Iggy Pop-inspired guitar rock -- it wasn't until Bilinda Butcher joined founders Kevin Shields and Colm O'Ciosoig in 1988, that their sound began to resemble the feedback-drenched shoegaze for which they gained so much posthumous recognition.

Isn't Anything, the band's first album with Butcher, was an epiphany compared to MBV's earlier work. The record is nowhere near as perfectly polished as their subsequent material, which I find to be an endearing quality. Songs like "Suieisfine" and "Feed Me With Your Kiss" exemplify the driving rock'n'roll side of shoegaze, with "No More Sorry" giving us a taste of what was soon to come.

At the time
Isn't Anything was released, Loop had already charted similar waters, and a few other bands were putting out comparable material -- conceived in parallel, rather than through influence. While My Bloody Valentine helped lay down the blueprint many would follow, they were not solely responsible for it.

My Bloody Valentine - Sueisfine
My Bloody Valentine - Feed Me With Your Kiss
My Bloody Valentine - No More Sorry

It was with
Loveless, MBV's second - and last - album which insured Kevin Shields his iconic status within the indie/alternative music scene. Demonstrating great production skills, and an unhealthy attention to detail, Shields took his band's music and drowned it in oil -- all slick and scary and cold. You can hear Branca and Eno in the mix, but the final result is far more listenable than the abstract, quixotic noise-anthems either of them produced.

The final track on
Loveless, "Soon" was to MBV what "Fool's Gold" was to The Stone Roses; a signature track unlike anything else they'd created. It even got the remix treatment by Andy Weatherall, although the original remains far superior. This was My Bloody Valentine's highest point, with the band disintegrating over the following years due to an increasingly reclusive Shields, who eventually began - amongst other things - farming chinchillas. This was not a rumour.

Kevin Shields has been doing remix projects and co-writing songs through the '90s, and produced the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's Lost In Translation. While guys like Pete Kember and Neil Halstead are resigned to obscurity, Shields' name carries great weight, and lends an element of credibility to the projects he is involved with -- sometimes undeservedly.

The exploits of ex-MBV member Debbie Googe, who formed Snowpony in the late '90s with former Stereolab guitarist Katherine Gifford, were far less successful. Snowpony kinda sucked, and that's all there is to it.

Colm O'Ciosoig produces music with Hope Sandoval (ex-Mazzy Star).

My Bloody Valentine - When You Sleep
My Bloody Valentine - Sometimes
My Bloody Valentine - Soon

Creation Records sure was hot back in the early '90s. Another of Alan McGee's signings - Ride - were in the process of winning hearts and minds of young, sad indie kids the world over -- or at least in England. Of course, there was no such thing as a today's stereotypical indie kid back then, but whatever. We did our best.

Rough around the edges for their first few EPs, Ride reigned things in and presented us with
Nowhere, their first official album, which was - aside from the sophomoric lyrics (which I quoted to my ex-wife on more than one occassion) - a great listen. From start to finish, there isn't a bad song to be found. The dueling guitars and vocals of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell were just begging to be played real loud on your walkman between class -- while wondering why the fuck you were on this miserable planet to begin with. For me, 1990 was the year of "Vapour Trail" -- easily the most popular song from Nowhere, it holds up today as a perfect example of well-executed shoegaze pop.

I have to give thanks to the guys who introduced me to both Ride and My Bloody Valentine. My Ride connection was this older kid who hung out with me in the art room and made me listen to "Chelsea Girl." The other - the MBV fanatic - was in my english class. I think he dropped out, and I'm pretty sure he was in a band. Sorry I don't remember your names.

Anyway, thus ends Ride's foray into shoegaze. From here they would move more towards psych and '60s rock, sometimes successfully (
Going Blank Again), and at other times unsuccessfuly (everything else). Andy Bell eventually joined Oasis.

Mark Gardener has just put together a new album after taking time off, touring as a solo artist, and releasing at least one very obscure track on a compilation my ex-wife had to join some fanclub to get. When we divorced, she kept Chapterhouse's
Rownderbowt (now going for over $80 on eBay), and I got to hold onto this shitty fanclub compilation with the Gardener track on it.

Ride - Chelsea Girl
Ride - Taste
Ride - Vapour Trail
Ride - Unfamiliar

Part 4 bonus audio:
Mark Gardener - Magdalen Sky (From Shifty Disco Compilation)
Kevin Shields - Interview (3 minutes)
Kevin Shields - City Girl (From Lost In Translation soundtrack)
Pastels - Cycle (Kevin Shields Mix)
Mogwai - Fear Satan (Kevin Shields Mix)
Damien O'Neill - Moontide (Kevin Shields Mix)
Yo La Tengo - Autumn Sweater (Kevin Shields Mix)

END PART 4 (Next: Chapterhouse and Slowdive, and short takes on Lush, Cocteau Twins and Moose)