10 Of The Best Shoegaze Records

Before I even begin to construct this list of musical monuments, let me just state that the music style of shoegaze is a tricky one. It’s an institution held close to many, and there are so many other influences that flit in and out of the heart and soul of the discipline that we are bound to leave something out. Choosing 10 albums from this kernel of musical history is a tough task, but trudge forth we will.

Shoegaze, like the name suggests, was born from an idea that people stare at the ground while playing this glorious wall-of-noise seeded in punk while exploring electronics and ambiance, and incorporating breathy vocals and tear-jerking melody. On paper, this is shoegaze. However, we all know it to be the definition-defying transcendent experience it is. Experimentation while remaining firmly planted in some parallel rock world exploring any mood that seems to fit in, be it the form of a drum machine, a vocal, or a fuzz pedal. A lot of elements have to come together perfectly to make it sound right, but when they do, it’s like no other sound out there.

Part of the magic of shoegaze music is experiencing it live. It’s typically very loud (those of you who have seen My Bloody Valentine will know what we’re talking about), and that wall of sound guitar sheen is impenetrable to the point where most listeners physically cannot take a step forward toward the speakers without feeling the urge to lose their lunch. Earplugs aren’t required, but you’d be smart to invest in them.

The recorded albums obviously have a hard edge to them, but they definitely have the more drifting, ambient periods as well. But live? It’s all about in-your-face noise. These albums have a life of their own on recorded formats, but once seen live, they enter your headspace in an entirely different fashion. It’s about the personalities of the performers on stage, and regardless of where they’re gazing, the notes that flutter from their instruments create an entire genre that only continues to gather more fans each passing year.

There will be bands left out, and we’re sure some of you will argue the validity of some these inclusions even being considered shoegaze. Any way you cut it, though, these albums are perfect in their own quirky way, more than justifying a purchase by each and every music lover out there.

10 Essential Shoegaze Albums

  1. This album is a good example of the shoegaze sound as we know it: jangly guitars, sparkly production, smooth vocals, and sharp songwriting. Released right at the beginning of entire grunge explosion, it was still not deterred by the explosion of that Seattle scene. “Whirlpool” spent weeks in the charts on both sides of the pond, and is still a great example of some of the most accessible shoegaze rock ever released. Chapterhouse followed this with an equally brilliant, and more electronic, album Blood Music a few years later, then never released another album. Even in spite of their small output, they left an indelible impression.
  2. Like Chapterhouse before them, Lush was able to take the gazer sound and make it more palatable for massive audiences. Their hooks were irresistible, and they championed an interest in electronic music by bringing in remixers like Spooky and Drum Club which helped the genre branch out and realize its fullest potential in other musical worlds. It’s albums like this that inspired later electronic artists like Ulrich Schnauss to marry more traditional organic elements of instrumentation with newer technological advancements. In the meantime, Spooky just flat out rocked!
  3. Go ahead and flip a coin, because that’s the only way you’re going to show any fairness in including just one Catherine Wheel album in a shoegaze list. I initially felt Ferment deserved to be here more, but after additional consternation, Chrome is a better representation of the gazer aesthetic. Singer Rob Dickinson (cousin of Iron Maiden‘s Bruce Dickinson) possessed perhaps the coolest voice of all time, and only served to sublimely compliment the brilliant guitar work and moods of the albums. Take track “Fripp” for example, which is one of the finest shoegaze songs ever: beginning at a quiet crawl and gently stirred by Dickinson’s croak until it builds into a melodic tornado of sound and emotion. “Too much is not enough” he yelled into the microphone, and we all agreed wholeheartedly.
  4. Like Catherine Wheel, it’s tough to just include one album from this group, but this has gotta be the one. Released on Creation Records (as many great shoegaze albums were), Swervedriver had taken all the things they had learned from their first album Raise and refined their approach while extending the jams. What makes this album work a little better is the complete encapsulation you feel while listening to it, particularly on tracks like “Duress” which is eight minutes of psychedelia and guitar fuzz that still manages to end all too soon.
  5. Never known to be shy, Richard Ashcroft later became the big-mouthed and arrogant band-ruiner he was, but before all that beamed “A Storm In Heaven”. More content to focus on the quiet subtleties, this album is significant in the pantheon of shoegaze because it made the decision to be more introspective and mellow about things instead of partaking in the flamboyancy of their later output. It’s a grand exercise in restraint from start to finish, much like a perfectly executed underplayed acting performance in that it proves there is just as much power in the quietudes if you let it evolve. Verve exercised this even more so on their singles where some of these songs were extended beyond ten minutes and allowed an even more intense experience.
  6. Yep, I’m choosing this album. Their most popular, accessible, and visible album ever. It also happens to be their best. Where their earlier output might fall into the goth rock category somewhat, and their later output filters into the “holy shit, this ain’t so good” file, Heaven Or Las Vegas hit all the right points without a single duff moment on it. One of the most impeccably-produced albums in the genre, it drifts from one track to the next with no effort, and before you know it, 40 minutes of pure sublimity has expired. Albums in any genre don’t get much better than this.
  7. JAMC were shoegaze before shoegaze was even shoegaze — that’s how damn shoegaze they are. This band basically invented staring down at the ground, looking annoyed with the very idea you would want to see them play, doing everything in their power to make sure zero eye-contact was made. Fortunately, they also came up with some of the most unique sounding music ever produced. Through a haze of feedback and guitar squeals, Psychocandy was able to take the ethics of punk and twist it into something new in an age when new wave was taking over the charts. It’s influence has remained over the years, and continues to be an inspiration for sad moping bastards everywhere, not to mention anyone with a keen ear for brilliant music.
  8. It’s hard to think of many albums in the genre that delivered more than this one. Peerless in execution, Souvlaki managed to corral the jangled guitars and project them through an ambience not many other albums have ever been able to equal. The elements of rhythm, rock, electronics, and harmony combine to make the melodies even more endearing and lasting than the artists themselves probably thought possible. This was one of those moments where lovers of any genre could come together and appreciate a musical experience without the hassles of labels or pigeon-holing. Souvlaki sparkled and twinkled like nothing else before it, and 20-odd years after its release it sounds like it could have come out just yesterday.
  9. The cover for this album is appropriate in a very vague way: crashing, meandering waves rolling on into infinity, forever changing and morphing into new possibilities — a great segue-way for Nowhere all things considered. Nowhere is an album that wasn’t quite accepted in a broad way upon its release, however in 2019, it’s heralded as one of the greatest ever. This is usually the sign of the public just not being ready for the advances they had heard at the time, and with a new remaster of Nowhere released in 2015, it’s proof positive that this record has ingrained itself into the very fabric of the way rock music is heard. Each and every sound on the album is perfectly placed and pitched, every nuance and detail hidden away until repeated listens expose its importance. It’s a record that demands repeat plays, and even after the 20th listen, something births itself giving the album an entirely new meaning. Shifting, changing color, and reappearing for the ages, Nowhere stands as one of the great testaments of ageless music.
  10. You knew this was coming. Sure, their earlier albums were marvels of the new guard, but Loveless is when shit got real. Another Creation Records release, Kevin Shields utilized an obsessive ear for detail that employed loops and backward-sounding guitars that made even the most sober of listeners feel like they were entering into a timewarp. This album is on a level all its own, and will forever remain planted at the top of all-time classics because of its sonic audacity, and brutal originality.
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  • Mar 20,2019 at 22:15

    In my humble opinion, an album that well represented the shoegaze spirit is The Boo Radleys’s Everything’s Alright Forever. I would also like to mention the Sonny & Sam [EP] from Moose and Doppelgänger from Curve.

  • Mar 20,2019 at 22:04
  • Feb 28,2019 at 13:25

    And what about Pale Saints’ The Comfort of Madness ?

  • Nov 23,2015 at 05:26

    Already owned and loved [m20623], but never gave the genre as a whole much attention until now. This blog post has opened up a whole new world of music for me, thanks!

  • Oct 21,2015 at 08:11

    Tough call but I’d choose Ferment over Chrome.
    Mrs. Hawes

  • Oct 14,2015 at 11:48

    Oh I wasn’t at all suggesting Talk Talk were shoegaze. It was more a tangential Catherine Wheel fact I felt compelled to mention.

  • Oct 14,2015 at 11:13

    [u=astroboy_45][u=lacrecidadeljucar][u=mjb] Thanks for the recommendations!
    [u=massenmedium]Yeah, I thought about including Kitchens of Distinction, I do love those early albums!
    [u=CaptainPugwash]I agree, Ride EPs are pretty amazing, and their best tracks hide on them. JAMC is one of those bands that sort of invented the term “shoegaze” but their sound is different somehow. They still rock!
    [u=pyenapple]Oh yeah, those Talk Talk albums are amazing. They’re in some weird netherworld all their own. To put any genre tag on those albums would be massively short-changing them.
    [u=spackler]Oh man, that sounds great! They’re coming to the states next month, so I can only assume it will be similar to what you describe!
    [u=harbour] Have fun!

  • Oct 14,2015 at 07:05

    Off to see them tonight, looking forward to it now!
    re the JAMC, i saw them on that Rollercoaster tour in London in 92 and were indeed great but not quite as good as when i saw them at the Kilburn National on the Automatic tour in 89, there is some footage of it on the dvd of the recent 3cd reissue!

  • Oct 14,2015 at 01:14

    @MarbleheadJohnson – it was at Leeds Academy last Sunday, their first time performing the album start-to-finish, I think. The backdrop was a huge print of the album cover. They did about an hour of classics, then an interval, then the whole of Nowhere and an encore of Drive Blind, Chelsea Girl and In Wann Be Your Dog. Brilliant!

  • Oct 13,2015 at 23:21

    I only just recently realized how hugely in debt so much of the Catherine Wheel discography was to Talk Talk’s final two albums. It’s crazy.

  • Oct 13,2015 at 13:43

    I was fortunate to have seen all of these bands (except the Verve and Cocteaus) live during their “pomp”. Ride were superb live. Whilst the album “Nowhere” is great I’ve always considered their very best tracks to be on the early E.P.s. Tracks such as Drive Blind, Chelsea Girl and Like A Daydream are cornerstones of the genre.

    All the bands listed were good live but the best of the lot was The JAMC. Their performance at Manchester in ’92 (touring with Dinosaur Jr and MBV in a revolving headline Rollercoaster tour along with Blur) was simply breathtaking.

  • Oct 13,2015 at 09:12

    Having not seen Ride in 25 years i was thinking of going to see them in Brixton tmw, its funny how bands like Slowdive and Ride are now fawned over when were given pretty short thrift back in the day by the UK press (Chapterhouse & Slowdive especially).
    Having been more into US bands at the time like Dinosaur Jr, Galaxie 500 & Sonic Youth I always felt a lot of the shoegaze stuff was a tad bland in comparison but there was some good stuff.
    Agree Kitchens of Distinction should be on list, as should early Moose (they were the band shoegaze was coined for after all, check out their track Suzanne)
    I would check out the first Drop Nineteens album, Delaware, the one US band who fitted the bill at the time, their track Winona (named after Miss Ryder) maybe my favorite track of the genre!
    Moose – Suzanne
    Drop Nineteens -Winona
    Pale Saints – Sight Of You
    Kitchens Of Distinction – The First Time We Opened The Capsule
    Asylum Party – Julia (even the french did it)

  • Oct 13,2015 at 07:21

    At the risk of being a bit “I was there”, although it’s never been especially cool, I was trying to work out if I was at the filmed ’91 show or the following night and dug out ticket stubs for two Ride shows the previous year along with tickets for Slowdive, Lush, Pale Saints, Chapterhouse, Catherine Wheel etc., mbv must be elsewhere.

    At the April ’90 Ride show they must have been promoting the Play EP as the venue was covered in piles of daffodils. Maybe that [i]s[/i] a bit fey ;)

    If I’d add any bands to the list it might be Kitchens Of Distinction although they didn’t really use much distortion, and perhaps Flying Saucer Attack who I guess came later, or at least I heard later.

    Check out the live clip they’ve put up of ‘Nowhere’, it’s rather good.

  • mjb
    Oct 13,2015 at 05:22

    Based on the choices in this list, [r442870] would probably be up your alley.

  • Oct 13,2015 at 02:35

    This is my favorite shoegaze record ever (never appears in lists)

  • Oct 12,2015 at 17:46

    Soda Stereo – Dynamo is the most important example of the shoegaze in Latin america.
    Hear that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuqjEQqG7Dg

  • Oct 12,2015 at 15:19

    Thanks for the recommendations, [u=snickersnots]! Never even heard of “Beautiful Noise”, but it’s now on my want list!

  • Oct 12,2015 at 15:15

    I just received my copy of Beautiful Noise in the mail last week and watched it immediately. Pretty much a documentary about the top 5 bands you list. I’m not sure I’d bounce any from your list but I want to give [m32518] and [m113320] honorable mentions. [m21237] is also pretty good.

  • Oct 12,2015 at 12:45

    [u=pod1322] I hear what you’re saying there, that makes sense. I do love Seefeel’s “Quique”, but love “Succour” even more!
    Thanks for reading, [u=Arthur_D.]!

  • Oct 12,2015 at 12:37

    I would had HUM to the list of bands that touched shoegaze with grace and heaviness!

  • Oct 12,2015 at 12:15

    true, they are less rock orientated but for me have the same feel, its like a natural progression

  • Oct 12,2015 at 12:05

    Thanks for reading, [u=pod1322]! I agree about “Pygmalion”, it’s actually my favorite Slowdive album. However, it’s almost more ambient than it is shoegaze, wouldn’t you say? Same with Seefeel — both classic albums, but more electronic in their approaches which sort of rearranges their “shoegaze” status in my book.

  • Oct 12,2015 at 11:51

    pretty comprehensive list there, as always its subjective mbv always eludes me where the likes of slowdive are so captivating

    lesser known act readymade http://www.discogs.com/artist/84876-Readymade-2
    made some great shoegaze long after the uk scene initially died down, they hailed from vancouver if i recall and driving through british columbia with this playing made for a great soundtrack

    slowdive’s final release Pygmalion http://www.discogs.com/Slowdive-Pygmalion/master/9482
    was so far ahead that it took a lot of folks including me a few years to discover it, truly beautiful in its sonic marvel imo
    seefeels quique is also well worth a mention http://www.discogs.com/Seefeel-Quique/master/21177

    also anything that Jozef Van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch have created is also well worthy http://www.discogs.com/Jozef-Van-Wissem-SQ%C3%9CRL-Only-Lovers-Left-Alive/release/5430344

  • Oct 12,2015 at 11:33

    Thanks for reading, [u=spackler]! When did you see them perform it? Would love to have been there!

  • Oct 12,2015 at 11:19

    I witnessed a reformed Ride perform ‘Nowhere’ from start to finish last night in Leeds…could not agree more with the #1 spot!

  • Oct 12,2015 at 09:32

    Thanks for reading, [u=massenmedium]! I agree with you completely, Ride is certainly not fey music by any stretch. I mentioned in the beginning that this music rocks pretty hard, and a Ride live show is no different!

  • Oct 12,2015 at 08:26

    Watching the clip of Ride playing Dreams Burn Down at the Town & Country Club in 1991 it doesn’t quite come across how intensive the moshpit would be for such supposedly fey music.


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