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Various Artists - Still In A Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995 (Cherry Red Records)

Cover art for the Still in a Dream box set.
31 December 2015

Shoegaze is a term that came into general use around 1990 to describe a new breed of UK indie guitar bands inspired by the likes of 4AD Records and My Bloody Valentine. Bands such as Ride, Moose, Lush, Pale Saints, Swervedriver, Slowdive, Catherine Wheel, Chapterhouse, and The Telescopes married dreamy, off-kilter melodies, skewed, heavily effects-laden guitar riffs and psychedelic production values. Although the term was originally derogatory, it quickly evolved to the active scene we have today with bunches of new bands, especially those outside the UK. This box set contains a lavish book and pays tribute to the original shoegaze period with numerous classics, cult favorites, rarities and tracks new to CD. Across five discs, the evolution of the sound labelled as shoegaze is charted from the bands who inspired it on Disc 1 to many of the US and other non-UK acts on Disc 5. The extensive liner notes were contributed by journalist Neil Taylor and Big Takeover editor/publisher Jack Rabid. It is a great tribute to “The Scene That Celebrated Itself”.

Wow, “Rollercoaster” rockets at you straight out of the gate, a classic tune from the venerated garage psych rockers, The Jesus and Mary Chain. Beyond Psychocandy, I never followed their career closely, which is a shame. Such a great band, and while I don’t strictly hear them as shoegaze in the classic sense, they certainly have all the hallmarks of great shoegaze: fuzzed out swirls of guitar and snarling feedback, with a ton of melody buried in the mix. This is a song I am playing over and over as I can’t get enough of it. It’s quite a stylistic jump to the gorgeous dream pop of “Cherry-Coloured Funk” from The Cocteau Twins. This is a band that has influenced seemingly everyone, and for good reason. Besides Elizabeth Fraser’s entrancing vocals, there are the haunting rushes of Robin Guthrie’s lush guitar work. Absolutely essential and lovely! And then we get to the classic “Christine” from the superb The House of Love. Again, this is not a band I would slot in as shoegaze, but the psych elements here are evident and welcome. I always have loved Guy Chadwick’s vocals (reminding me of Steve Kilbey) and the very cool guitar work of Terry Bickers. Mesmerizing and glorious, this is a killer single with staying power to this very day!

A.R. Kane has always been at the periphery of my consciousness, but I never really heard much of their music until recently. Here, we have “Baby Milk Snatcher (12” Version)”, a spacey dub stomp through the back roads of psychedelia. It is memorable and I find myself compelled to return for replays. The 12” version of “Mercy Seat” needs no introduction as it is one of the greatest songs released by Kurt Ralske’s band Ultra Vivid Scene. I consider it an underrated classic, and it was a staple on my radio show when it emerged in 1989. I can’t really describe its effect, other than to implore you to check it out. Ralske is a brilliant guitarist and tunesmith and he pulled out all the stops on this song. It has a strong main melody and way cool guitar lines. “Hypnotized” from Spacemen 3 is a lovely slice of psychedelia. It reminds me of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, with fine skeins of organ and vocal floating about like smoke. Loop is another staple of the late 1980s, and “Arc-Lite (Sonar)” is a kickin’ tune, propelled by some pulsating guitar and devilish drumming. 14 Iced Bears offer up the slow dreamy waves of “Surfacer”, ebbing and flowing with a gentle force that tugs at your tenses. The liner notes fail to mention that *Galaxie 500 consisted of the uber talented Dean Wareham of Luna and the equally prolific *Damon and Naomi. They were a short-lived band with three good to great albums who emerged from Harvard and offered up a series of Velvets-inflected songs, blueprints for what would follow later from the three of them. Their sound would be right at home in today’s scene, but they were lost in the grunge shuffle of the early 90s. “Tugboat” is a welcome reminder of how good they were, and its inclusion here is appreciated by this listener. “Puppet Clouds” from Scotland’s The Prayers wouldn’t be out of place on the Flying Nun label. I think they are yet another really good band channeling the Velvet Underground with great results. This is propulsive and melodic power pop, and will be replayed for sure.

Whew, Kitchens of Distinction will blow your socks off with their offering, “The 3rd Time We Opened The Caps*, though not because it remotely resembles shoegaze. What you get instead is their finely honed sense of melody and a rather pretty tune. If “One of Our Girls Has Gone Missing” sounds like Wire, it’s because Bruce Gilbert contributed guitar to this dreamy piece of synth pop, from filmmaker A.C. Marias, aka Angela Conway. The Telescopes bring us the loud, feedback-drenched single “Precious Little”, which lingers in the neighborhood of The Mary Chain. It is catchy and you will find yourself hitting repeat to experience it multiple times. The classic “Sight of You” by the brilliant “Pale Saints” has a rightful place on this collection. It is an amazing song, filled with all the hallmarks of shoegaze: a brilliantly rendered melodic structure with waves of guitar pushed to the max. It is no surprise that Ride did a faithful cover of this song, revealing that both bands trod the same hallowed ground. And who is this band Jane From Occupied Europe whose song “Ocean Run Dry” is so great? They have all the hooks down, and this rather fuzzy song seems to have a cello offering an unique backdrop to their brand of psych pop. Good stuff!

The awesome ‘gaze band from Oxford (Ride) needs no introduction, nor does their super trippy song “Drive Blind”, a song every self-respecting shoegaze fan knows and loves and one that is always included in their live shows. It caps off the second disk, which is stuffed full of ‘gazey goodness. The classic, fast burning “De-Luxe” from the reformed (yay!) Lush is one of their best, and is the perfect marriage of dream pop and shoegaze, thanks to billowing waves of feedback and Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson’s angelic vocals. “Slip So Slow” from See See Rider features the heavy surf vibe of current bands (Raveonettes, for example) and also reminds me of a host of like-minded bands who know their way around reverb mixed with paired male/female vocals. Dutch band Nightblooms trot out the classic “Crystal Eyes” with a wall of feedback, crazy psyched out guitar, and a beguiling female vocalist. The spaced out
paean “Waiting For The Angels” is from a Spacemen 3 spin-off, The Darkside, another worthy addition to this set. I really dig the wah-wah pedal that drives the cool “Falling Down” from Chapterhouse. It is danceable psych that will have you dipping and diving as it swoops around your ears. Comparisons to Ride are inevitable but are only a jumping off point for this neat tune. “Switchblade Smile” from Ireland’s massively underrated Whipping Boy worms its way into your synapses and never leaves, so good is the memorable though slightly jarring melody. “Kaleidoscope” from scene fixture The Boo Radleys is hard-hitting, with piledriving guitar courtesy of Martin Carr (wow!) and far from the music that would later emerge on the Wake Up! album. Turn it to stun! Following this is the equally intense barn burner, “Rave Down”, from Oxford’s awesome Swervedriver. It is not unlike the many great tunes that followed it, but it remains a firm favorite of mine. Slowdive’s early single “Slowdive” contains the dreamy essence of their later work and is a sweet combination of Rachel Goswell’s heavenly voice and Neil Halstead’s stellar guitar work. The original version of “She’s My Friend” from Great Yarmouth’s amazing Catherine Wheel isn’t fully fleshed out like the later version, but it has the fucked up guitar pyrotechnics of Brian Futter and Rob Dickinson’s golden pipes all over it. Bark Psychosis resides in the quieter realms of dream pop and post rock, yet “All Different Things” succeeds on multiple levels with restrained vocals and instrumentation. At about the four minute mark, they start kicking out the jams and shove this into high gear.

Who better to usher in Disk 3 than the hard-driving dance psych of Curve? Between Toni Halliday’s chilled but lush vocals and Dean Garcia’s arsenal of guitar and effects, they covered the gamut of musical styles over the years they were together. “Godlike” from The Dylans is a pleasant pastiche of 80s pop and psych; it sounds like something from the C86 era, yet it is at home here in this collection. Perhaps it is because of the debt shoegaze owes to psychedelia, who knows? DC’s cool Slumberland band The Lilys announces its firm place in the shoegaze arena with the crunchy good “February Fourteenth”. It also echoes noise bands such as Sonic Youth in its dreamy maelstrom. The Honey Smuggler is a striking mesh of Vox organ and layered harmonies. Cool and psychedelic, and veering on dream pop, but not quite shoegaze. Spirea X steals a few pages from The Byrds and Stone Roses on the chiming “Chlorine Dream”. Moose hit a homer with the evocative and tripped out “Suzanne”; they are not a band I’ve followed closely but I shall remedy that situation. “Run” is a cool hit from Spiritualized and echoes a Lynyrd Skynyrd song (“Call Me The Breeze”, penned by JJ Cale). Mat Flint of Deep Cut used to play in Revolver, and they are ably represented here by “Heaven Sent An Angel”. It is a great tune, with strong melodies, singing, and playing. Lowlife offer up the delicately architected dream pop confection “June Wilson (Edit)”. Czech shoegaze favorites The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa toss out the noisy gorgeousness of “Square Wave”, blissing your ears like a sonic bomb. It is also swell to see Mike Schulman’s (Slumberland co-founder) group Black Tambourine represented here with their gorgeous, swooning stunner of a song, “By Tomorrow”. And ooh, I really dig “Explosion” from “Whipped Cream”, which marries extremely trippy guitar and dreamy female vocals. Cool! I also really like the fuzz fest of “My Deranged Heart” from Smashing Orange, who deserved more attention than they got. They are way more psychedelic than most of the bands in this collection, and are proud to wear it on their sleeve. Great, druggy grooves from start to finish.

I heard The Sunflowers for the first time last month when I received this digital package from Cherry Red. And boy, here is yet another group I missed out on. I know, nobody can possibly follow all of them, but how could I miss them? “Closer” is a fabulous song with a standout main melody and stellar guitar work, and it’s not to be missed. The Belltower features Britta Phillips of Luna though she is not the focal point here. What does stand out is some really fine riffing and strong songwriting. “Phonefreak Honey” by *Sweet Jesus is notable for some soaring vocals and widescreen shoegaze. The band never went anywhere due to the collapse of Rough Trade; too bad, as they had a lot of potential. And oh, yes, the excellent single “Sunshine Smile” by the wonderful band Adorable fits tightly into the dream pop/shoegaze myth, with its candied vocals melded to a mind-melting noise fest. It also has the best bridge of any song here, sucking you straight into its flowery center. Sun Dial channels its inner Ride on the engaging “I Don’t Mind”, while my friend Louise Trehy’s old band Swallow does it up proper with the pretty “Sugar Your Mind”. Inclusion of “Talkin’ ‘Bout The Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants To Live Forever)” by Norman, Oklahoma’s The Flaming Lips is a bit of an odd choice to include here. However, it does bear all the component parts of shoegaze: noise, melody, feedback, and a wall of sound, so it’s as good a selection as any. Medicine also belongs here, with its MBV-styled “Aruca”, albeit cut from a softer mold. “Starhappy” from The Honey Buzzards straddles the line between psychedelia and shoegaze and the results are sublime pop, while “Babysbreath” from loveliescrushing easily crosses the slippery road that crosses between beautiful noise and stunning dream pop. Boston’s noise popsters The Swirlies toss Lush and MBV into their melange of heavy effects and walls of feedback on “Park The Car By The Side Of the Road”; you might also hear Sonic Youth and Dinosaur as influences. New Zealand’s Bailter Space takes a turn at the shoegaze game with their darkly gorgeous single “Shine”. Layers of guitar and gauzy vocals complement and put a lovely sheen on this song. The underrated Blind Mr. Jones ends out the disk with the superb “Spooky Vibes”, a majestic sendoff underlaid with trilling flute.

“Soaring High” from Flying Saucer Attack is a definite highlight from Disk 5. First, it is dissimilar to the droning music they create now, and it sounds like The Byrds definitely figure into their influences somewhere. The vocals are buried beneath a wall of feedback, but it’s highly melodic in all its squealing. “Loveblind” from Secret Shine is pillows of feedback, feathery soft vocals, and an appealing melody. “Bronx Cheer” from Mercury Rev is familiar and warm, even while it kicks! We also have Boston’s Curtain Society and their single “Chelsea” from 1993, which fits right into the late 80s Thames Valley movement. Seefeel’s version of this genre is revealed in the dreamy electropop of “Plainsong”. It stands out by virtue of not treading the same path as the other artists. “Surround Sound” from New Jersey band Spindrift marry far out prog-psych with cool effects and channel a bit of Verve along the way. Alison’s Halo offers a more traditional approach to shoegaze on their lovely song “Dozen”, while “Next to Nothing” from Bowery Electric is droning psych with no vocals attached to it. Luna ends this final disk with their classic “16 Minutes in Brussels”, neatly channeling the Velvets and Television while offering Dean’s dryly charming vocals and solid guitar work.

This ends a long review of an excellent box set, filled to the brim with beautiful noise, heavenly vocals, and memorable bands. Highly recommended for all fans of dream pop, shoegaze, and psychedelia.

 

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