Noise-rock, dream-pop, post-punk, drone-rock, neo-psychedelia...all of these musical subgenres and more became components of the shoegaze sound. The term itself was rather derisively coined by the press to describe a certain group of musicians' tendencies to stare down at their feet while performing - partly out of introspection, partly out of necessity to operate guitar effects pedals. But the "shoegaze" term stuck, and so did the music. Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze, a lavish, hardcover book-style 5-CD box set, arrived last month from Cherry Red Records. It celebrates the rock style's early-nineties heyday in comprehensive manner over the course of 87 tracks taking in groups that defined the genre, as well as those who influenced it and those who were influenced by it.
What was the shoegaze sound, exactly? Still in a Dream makes the case that the style wasn't a strict or homogenous one, but roughly speaking, the music contained on these discs is the work of guitar-heavy bands, laden with effects and/or feedback, blending with dreamy, low-key vocals in a dense, echoing, Wall of Sound-esque fashion. Labels such as Creation Records (itself anthologized on a splendid box from Cherry Red), 4AD, Situation Two, Rough Trade and Cherry Red itself all play roles in the story. Familiar tracks, rarities and cult favorites (some new to CD) have a place here.
The first disc of the set, appropriately enough, starts with the heavy hitters of The Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins. Their respective tracks, "Rollercoaster" and "Cherry-Coloured Funk," both hail from 1990 and set the tone for the collection. The box then goes backwards to take in a number of earlier recordings from The House of Love, Ultra Vivid Scene, Spacemen 3, and others, with the varied tracks veering from noise to harmony, uptempo to downbeat, and back again. Groups such as Ride and Lush brought more of a pop element into shoegaze (and were met with success); they both feature on Still in a Dream, opening the second disc of the collection. Though shoegaze remained U.K.-centric, a number of American bands got in on the act, too, including Medicine, The Swirlies, Drop Nineteens, Majesty Crush, and The Flaming Lips. The latter band isn't usually grouped in with shoegaze, but their ornate brand of psychedelic rock (as heard here on the 1992 opus "Talkin' 'Bout the Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants to Live Forever)") fits snugly on this set. Japan, Ireland and New Zealand are among the other locales featured here, proving that shoegaze had spread internationally.
No track on the box set dates from after 1995, but some of the bands featured might be considered "second-generation" shoegazers, taking their influences from the Jesus and Mary Chain, Cocteau Twins, Ride or Lush. Compiler-producer John Reed deserves credit for openly noting in the book that seminal shoegaze songs from numerous bands couldn't be included on Still in a Dream due to licensing restrictions. The most glaring omission is, of course, My Bloody Valentine - perhaps the preeminent band in the genre. (The box's title even derives from a MBV song!) But Reed also champions Mazzy Star, Stereolab, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Verve and Levitation as other artists deserving of a spot in the box.
Even without those key artists, however, Still in a Dream is a wide and varied look at music that hasn't lost any of its edge or visceral power in the past two decades. The anthology is beautifully designed and copiously annotated, though the absence of discography for each track (original album and/or single with catalogue number) is curious. Neil Taylor provides a lengthy and illuminating introductory essay, and Jack Rabid (drummer of Springhouse and Editor of The Big Takeover) provides an essay offering the American perspective on shoegaze. Track-by-track notes, with numerous illustrations, round out the full-color 40-page book. Simon Murphy has newly remastered all tracks on the box.
The subtitle of Still in a Dream promises to be A Story of Shoegaze, but it's a near-definitive one. You can order this set at the links below!