Happy 52nd birthday to Andy Bell of shoegazing pioneers, Ride. To the early 90s music press, 'shoegaze' described a fusion of poppy harmonies and lacerating riffs (still influencing the likes of Mogwai.) Here are three classics of the genre.
RIDE: Leave them all Behind (1992)
Although founder-member and guitarist Andy Bell has stated a performance by The Smiths provided the inspiration for forming Ride in 1988, their music went on a vastly different trajectory. The classic Byrds-esque harmonies were there in abundance, but Johnny Marr’s chiming guitar arpeggios were replaced by one of the singular absences in his style: power chords. In full flow, Ride were capable of conjuring a ferocious wall of noise to rival any metal band.
By the early 90s a support slot with Scottish baggies The Soup Dragons had brought them to the attention of one Alan McGee, and they were signed to his Creation label. Their debut album ‘Nowhere,’ released in October 1990, was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as ‘a masterpiece.’ Befitting the looming wave on its cover, it dense songs saw them pigeon-holed into the burgeoning ‘shoegaze’ scene – an offshoot of alternative rock characterised by ear-bleeding riffs and layers of psychedelic guitar, propelled by a dizzying array of effects pedals.
My Bloody Valentine had provided the template for this style a while earlier, but Ride rode the crest of the shoegazing wave into the new decade (much as they resented the term themselves.) Their second album, ‘Going Blank Again,’ released in 1992, consolidated elements of their potent debut, but injected the overall sound with poppier sensibilities. Some tracks – ‘Mouse Trap,’ ‘Time of Her Hand,’ ‘Not Fazed’ or ‘Twisterella’ - were bouncy enough to encroach on the territory of label-mates Teenage Fanclub. But the opener, ‘Leave Them All Behind,’ released as a single that reached number 9 in the charts, is a shoegazing classic.
Clocking in at 8 minutes 17 seconds, it was ranked 273 in the NME’s Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. After the seductive intro of Steve Queralt’s bass, Loz Golbert strikes the drum cue for the twin guitars of Mark Gardener and Andy Bell to gatecrash any hint of something mellower than ‘Nowhere.’ From that point the track ebbs and flows like the swelling seas pictured on their debut album cover, heading towards a blistering crescendo, the vocals intoning: “I don't care about the colours/I don't care about the light/I don't care about the truth.” After a glorious wah-wah solo, the guitars thunder towards the finale, like that ‘Nowhere’ wave finally cresting and crashing onto a shore.
Within a couple of years, Ride lost their direction, grunge arrived from the US and a further Creation signing, Oasis, heralded Britpop. Ride have reformed a couple of times and continue producing interesting material, but it’s the shoegazing majesty of their early songs, epitomised by ‘Leave Them All Behind’ that truly resonates.
After a glorious wah-wah solo, the guitars thunder towards the finale, like that ‘Nowhere’ wave finally crashing onto a shore.
SLOWDIVE: Shine (1992)
Named after a single by Siouxsie and The Banshees, Slowdive were a mellower shoegazing proposition than Ride’s guitar-heavy dissonance. They were formed in 1989 by Rachel Goswell and Neail Halstead, who had jammed together since the age of 6 through various youth groups. In adult life, Goswell, now influenced by Iggy Pop, Joni Mitchell and Siouxsie Sioux, and Halstead, embraced the sonic tumult of the shoegazing scene.
Slowdive's self-titled debut EP, released in November 1990, received critical praise. By the following year, they had convinced Creation boss Alan McGee they had enough material for a debut album. Although they didn’t. Hurriedly writing songs, they eventually recorded ‘Just For A Day.’ Brian Eno was impressed enough by their ambient vibe to agree to collaborate with them during the sessions for the follow-up album ‘Souvlaki.’ But they suffered when the music press rounded on shoegaze. Their beautiful and ethereal output, at times reminiscent of the sublime Cocteau Twins, was unfairly labelled dull and dated by journos eager to extol the catchier virtues of up-and-coming Suede and the nascent Britpop scene. A Melody Maker reviewer wrote he’d “rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to Souvlaki again.”
Stuart Braithwaite, of Scottish post-rock band Mogwai, who had far more in common with Slowdive than the Britpop bands who copied the same retrospective Merseybeat template: “There is a lovely moral in the fact that Melody Maker’s crumbled but Slowdive are playing to thousands of people a night. I think that’s the good guys winning for once.”
‘Shine,’ the b-side of their first single ‘Catch the Breeze,’ is a highlight of Slowdive’s mesmerising output, 5 minutes 23 seconds of beautiful, shimmering dream pop, Goswell’s translucent voice intoning a plaintive two-note melody.
Slowdive are still writing and performing their captivating music.
Stuart Braithwaite (Mogwai): There is a lovely moral in the fact that Melody Maker’s crumbled but Slowdive are playing to thousands of people a night. I think that’s the good guys winning for once.
NOTHING: Dig (2013)
Nothing, from Philadelphia, are an alt rock band whose 2014 debut album, ‘Guilty of Everything’ drew comparisons with everyone from My Bloody Valentine to Smashing Pumpkins. The shoegaze elements are certainly present and correct – towering, distorted guitars, soaring falsettos and snare-heavy percussion. Stephen Carlick of online review site Exclaim! said: "Nothing evoke Slowdive’s biggest moments, albeit with more passion."
Nothing are so much more interesting than a sum of their many influences. Actually, they are fortunate to be anything at all. Founder Dominic ‘Nicky’ Palermo grew up in the crack-addled Kensington neighbourhood of Philadelphia. While playing in hardcore band Horror Show he got in a fight with a rival crew and stabbed somebody, receiving a two-year jail sentence for aggravated assault and attempted murder. In May 2015, he was set upon by muggers after Nothing gigged in Oakland, leaving him with a fractured skull and eye socket. While making the band's third album, ‘Dance On The Blacktop,’ he was diagnosed with likely Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease that can only be fully confirmed post-mortem.
Nothing’s dense but deeply touching sound can’t be heard outwith the context of Palermo’s titanic stuggles against adversity.
Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen has described Nothing as "loud, distorted and heavy, but not aggressive.” The sleeve of their first LP Guilty of Everything is reminiscent of English post-punk veterans Wire’s stunning Pink Flag debut, although the banner in this case is white. In 2015 a special vinyl edition was released, featuring the flag altered to rainbow colours, with 50 cents from each purchase going to the LGBT+ charities New Alternatives (an organisation dedicated to helping homeless LGBT+ youth in New York City) and the It Gets Better Project, empowering LGBT+ youth.
Nothing’s dense but deeply touching sound can’t be heard outwith the context of Palermo’s titanic stuggles against adversity. ‘Dig,’ their first single, sounds like a heavier version of The War On Drugs. (A video for another track, ‘Bent Nail,’ featured a cameo by former WOD guitarist Kurt Vile.) It’s an excellent showcase of the foreboding sound of Nothing.