Wildhoney at the Neptune Theatre, Seattle | 17 November 2015
I always wonder if a band that makes great records can deliver them live, especially today in today’s world full of bands making albums in their bedroom on their laptop. Wildhoney proved that they are the real deal opening for a couple hard core bands La Dispute and Envy at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle’s University District. The audience was predominately young hardcore fans, but the Baltimore band seemed to win them over with their infectious blend of ethereal noisepop and shoegaze.
Singer Lauren Shusterich’s voice easily danced over the tremolo laden wall of guitars. Mid-set a girl behind me yelled out to the band “You’re sooo cute!” I think they may have momentarily blushed, but then they tore into another one of their seemingly endless supply of killer songs. The night before OG shoegazers Ride had played the same stage. I didn’t go and after seeing Wildhoney I don’t think I missed anything.
Don’t miss their latest EP Your Face Sideways (recorded by Gary Olson of the Ladybug Transistor) which evokes some serious Velocity Girl vibes.
A couple of recent shoegaze album lists from Sounds Better with Reverb and Surfing on Steam prompted me to recall those heady days of shoegaze between 1988 and 1994. My recollection wasn’t about the great albums, though there were some, but about the EP’s. Those of us there at the time know that it was all about the EP. Albums were slow to come and often disappointing but the EPs came quick and were often a band’s pinnacle. Often a band would do a brilliant EP and then never reach the same heights on the album, or never even make an album. Here is my list of favorite shoegaze EP’s from that time.
The Boo Radleys – Every Heaven EP (Rough Trade)
I believe this got single of the week in Melody Maker and for good reason. The killer bass line of The Finest Kiss draped over by shards of blistering guitar are a recipe for single of any week. This EP along with Boo Up! and Kaleidoscope make for an unsurpassed shoegaze EP trilogy.
Interesting Info: If you hadn’t noticed this blog is named after The Finest Kiss, the lead track on this EP.
Stream: The Finest Kiss
Sweet Jesus – Real Babe (Rough Trade)
No one ever mentions Sweet Jesus when they talk about shoegaze which is a minor crime. At the time they got tagged as the T-Rex’s of scene. These guys released four ep’s and each one of them is a shoegaze classic.
interesting Info: Many people thought singer Ben Bently was a girl based on his singing voice. He also had a beehive hairdo.
Stream: Real Babe
Chapterhouse – Mesmerize (Dedicated)
Mesmerize was kind of a psychedelic curve ball after the blissed out Whirlpool album with its piano riff and tuba blasts. This is the pinnacle of the Chapterhouse discography. Four songs pushing the boundaries of what people thought shoegaze was.
Interesting Info: My roommate in college played this EP so much he nearly made me hate it. He would not only play it to death, but sing Mesmerize a capella at top volume. Weird.
Headtime – Have You Heard EP (Cherry Red)
Headtime probably got lumped into the shoegaze crowd because they favored a big guitar sound and had a slightly blurry fish cover for their first EP. The title track features some sitar which may be a first. In any event it’s a much better instrumental choice than the flute (hello Blind Mr. Jones).
Interesting Info: There is very little information to be be gleaned from the internet about this band. Richard Formby produced this EP. Headtime made one other EP called Graham before disbanding.
Stream: I Visualize
Moose – Jack (Hut)
Moose quickly eschewed the shoegaze tag on their first album XYZ, but their first two EP’s are firmly entrenched in the scene that celebrated itself. They would do an about face and get Mitch Easter to produce their first album and it would be brilliant. Not really a surprise since this is brilliant also.
Interesting Info: Moose toured the US opening for the Cocteau Twins in the mid 90’s.
Curve – Blindfold EP (Anxious)
Mining the industrial side of shoegaze, Curve’s first EP was pretty impressive. They had a rapper (JC-001) on Ten Little Girls, Wah Wah guitar on I Speak Your Every Word. The duo of Dean Garcia and Toni Halliday could do no wrong in the eyes of the British Press during the run of initial EPs. The Frozen EP and the Cherry EP soon followed, but didn’t reach the heights of this one.
Interesting Info: Toni Halliday put out a solo album called Hearts and Handshakes prior to forming Curve. Yes it’s as bad as the title suggests.
Stream: Ten Little Girls
My Bloody Valentine – Tremelo (Creation)
No shoegaze list is complete without the godfathers of shoegaze. The Tremelo EP upped the stakes for everyone. These were guitars!?!? They sounded like flutes and sound tubes. Kevin Shields could probably make his guitar sound like purring kitty cat if we wanted to
Interesting Info: I once interviewed Kevin Shields and asked him about his lyrics. That’s why I don’t get paid to do this.
Revolver – Venice (Hut)
Revolver were a trio of teenagers that took a powerpop bent on shoegaze. Their first two EPs (45 and Crimson) were spotty, but the third one really seemed catch them finally living up to their potential. Red All Over is great and their cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s Since Yesterday was a pleasant surprise.
Interesting Info: Revolver released on one album called Cold Water Flat. Singer and guitarist Mat Flint currently plays in Deep Cut.
Stream: Red All Over
Pale Saints – Half-life Remembered (4AD)
A concept EP about life in the womb. This EP was produced by Chris Allison who had recently worked with the Wedding Present and he did make them sound a bit more rocking. This is probably the most straightforward the Pale Saints ever sounded. If you bought the vinyl version of this, it had a freaky hidden fifth track called The Colour of the Sky. To hear it you had the lift up the needle and place it down. Your reward was Ian Masters shrieking at the top of his lungs.
Interesting Info: Masters left the Pale Saints after their next album In Ribbons and Meriel Barham took over singing duties on the band’s final underwhelming album Slow Buildings.
Stream: Half-life Remembered
House of Love – Christine (Creation)
This may be a stretch, lumping the House of Love in with the shoegazers, but I would argue that Christine is early and influential in the scene. It’s droning vocal and buzzing guitars would be a blueprint many subsequent bands would use.
Interesting Info: This EP featured Andrea Heukam who provided vocals on the Hill. She left the band soon after.
The Bardots – Pretty O (Cheree)
Veering toward the dreampop side of shoegaze the Bardots featured the feminine sounding Simon Dunford on vocals. Similar to Sweet Jesus, many people thought he was a girl when they heard him sing. The Pretty-O EP featured big hooks and great guitars. The younger me didn’t appreciate them as much as the older me does now. Both of their albums Eye Baby and V-Neck are worth seeking out as is their first single Sad Anne.
Interesting Info: The Bardots featured Krzysztof Fijalkowski on guitar, the brother of Adorable singer Pete Fijalkowski.
Stream: Pretty O
Ride – Ride (Creation)
This came out in the US on the Smile compilation which combined this EP and the Play EP. For my money Chelsea Girl and Drive Blind are unbeatable. Drive Blind would become Ride’s You Made Me Realize.
Interesting Info: Andy Bell went on to play in the mostly awful Hurricane #1 and then play bass in Oasis.
Stream: Chelsea Girl
Swervedriver – Duel – (Creation)
Up until Duel I didn’t have much interest in Swervedriver’s take on Dinosaur Jr. With Duel they started to forge a new path. This three song EP had no filler, but it was easy to overlook Plane Over the Skyline and Year of the Girl due to the fact the Duel blistered like a star in very close proximity.
Interesting Info: Swervedriver have a history of bad luck with record labels. They were dropped from Creation a week after the release of their best album Ejector Seat Reservation and then after signing with Geffen in the US, they were dropped just before their fourth album was to be released. It would be years before that album 99th Dream would see the light of day.
Lush – Mad Love (4AD)
Lush never really lived up to the promise of their first three EPs. Scar was the second in that line and if featured Lush free of expectations. De-Luxe and Downer are blissed out and blistering and Thoughtforms is a great shoegaze lullaby.
Interesting Info: After Lush broke up Miki Berenyi retired from bands, though she has been coaxed to come out of retirement briefly by Eric Matthews and Hard Skin. Emma Anderson went on to form Sing-Sing with Lisa O’Neill.
Slowdive – Holding Our Breath (Creation)
Slowdive were the downers of shoegaze. The mellow youngsters who sounded like they had been doing this sort of thing for ages. This EP featured one of the best Slowdive songs Catch the Breeze which would show up later on their first album, but it also contained the equally mesmerizing Shine and a cover of Syd Barrett’s Golden Hair.
Interesting Info: Slowdive would later become a techno group on their final album Pygmalion and then leader Neil Halstead would junk all of his effects pedals and go alt-country in Mojave 3.
Telescopes – Celeste (Creation)
Telescopes were the shoegaze band that never seemed to get any respect. They were on the right label and they had good songs, but never seemed to catch on. Maybe it was because their albums never reached the heights of the songs on the Celeste EP and its precursor Everso.
Interesting Info: The Telescopes are still around and are playing the Comet here in Seattle April 15.
February Fourteenth – Lilys (Slumberland)
The Lilys first incarnation was as a shoegaze band. Their first single may have been unfairly disparaged for sounding too much like My Bloody Valentine. Criticisms aside, it was uncanny how they took the MBV baton and ran with it on a shoe string budget.
Interesting Info: Lilys went on to morph into a mod pop band and scored a hit single and a Levis advertisement in the UK.
Stream: February Fourteenth
Ecstasy of St. Theresa – Fluidtrance Centauri (Free)
Shoegaze knows no borders. This Czech band were always on the perifery of the scene due mostly to geography and their tendency to change their sound every couple of releases. All three songs on this EP have classic quiet-loud moments that shoegaze fans cannot get enough of.
Interesting Info: Ecstasy of St. Theresa teamed up with British Sea Power in 2004 to release the single A Lovely Day Tomorrow sung in both English and Czech.
Velocity Girl – My Forgotten Favorite (Slumberland)
Not many American bands contributed anything new to shoegaze, but Velocity Girl with this single seemed to take what was going on in the UK and put their own mark on it. My Forgotten Favorite is a classic and the b-side Why Should I Be Nice To You is no slouch either.
Interesting Info: The original singer in the band was Bridget Cross. She left the band after the release of their first single I Don’t Care If You Go and went on to join Unrest.
Stream: Forgotten Favorite
Bleach – Snag EP (Way Cool)
Bleach were briefly shoegaze and then they became something else and then they broke up. The Snag EP was a perfect snapshot of that sweet spot. Bethesda still holds up after 22 years.
Interesting Info: I got nothing. They were from Ipswich?
Adorable – Sunshine Smile (Creation)
I always thought Adorable were more Bunnymen than shoegaze, but consensus says that they were shoegaze and who am I to argue? This three song EP is packed with two of the band’s best songs. Sunshine Smile crashes into the room and totally wrecks it and then A To Fade, which singer Pete Fijalkowski says was heavily based on the Go-Betweens Cattle and Cane, heals all the wounds.
Interesting Info: Fijalkowski went on to form Polak with his brother Krzysztof. He has most recently been working with House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers.
Stream: Sunshine Smile
Catherine Wheel – Black Metallic (Polydor)
One of the great things about these shoegaze EP’s was that the bands treated them it might be their last release, packing them with great songs. Catherine Wheel were no exception. Everyone knows Black Metallic, but buried on this EP is Let Me Down Again which I always thought was as good as the title track.
Interesting Info: Catherine Wheel were the most successful UK shoegaze band in the States, probably due to their heavier tendencies and willingness to tour. Singer Rob Dickenson is the cousin of Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickenson.
Stream: Let Me Down Again
Nyack – Savage Smile EP (Echo)
This EP was so good and then then the follow up album was kind of a let down. Nyack were from Nyack, New York (duh), but didn’t sound it. They sounded english and they had an English record label. The only give-away that they were from NY was Blondie cover. That aside This EP’s other three songs were all aces.
Interesting Info: Before they were called Nyack, they went by Aenone and released a similar sounding EP on Kramer’s Kokopop label.
Named after an early Primal Scream song, Velocity Girl originally started out with Bridget Cross as their singer. When Cross left to join Unrest, Sarah Shannon joined the band as the new singer. Soon after that they recorded their seminal classic Forgotten Favorite. I don’t think they ever surpassed it’s sublime noisy beauty. The Washington, DC band was made up of the remnants of other DC bands like Black Tambourine (guitarists Archie Moore and Brian Nelson) and Jim Spellman from the Highback Chairs. They followed up their appearance on …One Last Kiss by signing with Sub Pop and releasing their first album, Copacetic. Copacetic never quite surpassed the dizzying heights of Forgotten Favorite, but songs like Crazy Town and Pop Loser came close. They shifted gears a bit for the follow up album, the John Porter produced, Simpatico (my favorite), toning down the feedback and going for the jugular with straight ahead pop songs. I defy anyone not to sing the woo-hoo’s in the chorus of Sorry Again!
From Washington, DC circa 1992 we go out to Long Beach, California circa now and Katie the Pest. The band or at least Talia Rose who is the singer, guitarist and songwriter have been around in some form or another since the early 00’s. They have a handful of releases under their belts including a split album with Banner Day and and EP called This Giant Will Kill You. The sound is kind of a merging of some of the great girl groups of the early 90’s including Tsunami, Tiger Trap, Cub, Henry’s Dress, and of course a little Velocity Girl. I think the new split single with Sterling Says is my favorite thing they’ve done to date. Apparently there is a new album that has been recorded and ready to go…anxiously waiting to hear it. In the meantime, here is Spit It Out.
If you live in Seattle, and even if you don’t, this week has been Sub Pop overload. It seems like everywhere you turn there’s something being written about the label in the newspaper, magazine, blogs, or something on the radio, or TV. Hell, they’ve even taken over the Space Needle with a Sub Pop flag and had it painted like a record. Will they not stop? Probably they will, but it won’t be at least until this weekend is over. The grand finale to Sub Pop’s 20th birthday party is a two day music fest extravaganza over in Redmond at Marymoor Park. If you haven’t heard, (you haven’t heard?!?) it’s two days of music with a lineup that includes the reunited Vaselines, Beachwood Sparks, Green River Les Thugs and Eric’s Trip as well as current label powerhouses Fleet Foxes, Foals, Wolf Parade and No Age.
I was not one that really started off loving a lot of the music Sub Pop put out, but I always had respect for the label. They put out records of bands they liked, and as the label grew, the diversity of it’s roster also grew. Both Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt were rabid music fans and it definitely shows through in their label’s catalog with everything from Combustible Edison to the Fastbacks to Mudhoney to Iron and Wine to Foals. It seems like I was more of a fan of their more left field releases, at least early on. Some of my favorites include:
Pernice Brothers – Overcome by Happiness
Eric Mathews – It’s Heavy in Here
The Spinanes – Manos
Velocity Girl – Simpatico
Zumpano – Look What the Rookie Did
Fastbacks – Zucker
One of the coolest things the label ever did was start a singles club where you paid up front and got records mailed to you each month. They just recently announced they were starting up the club again. Records start shipping in August, you can sign up here, but better do it quickly, each release is limited to 1500. To tempt you into signing up and to celebrate the label’s 20 years, here are few singles from the Sub Pop catalog that are now out of print. Happy birthday, and see ya at SP20!
sp295 mp3: Tindersticks – Here (Pavement cover)