‘Shoegazing’ originally started out as a negative term used to describe a somewhat seemingly “anti-stage antics” style of playing. Many bands and solo artists today use the stage as a platform to showcase their personality and athletic ability rather than a display of musical talent and exceptional musicianship.
We’ve gathered a list of the Best Shoegaze Bands for new listeners in one place to save you the time it would take to do the research yourself. Before we actually dive into the list of bands and why they’re absolutely essential listening, you’ll be able to learn a little bit about how the genre started out.
You’ll also see why this genre is a prime example of how much power lies in taking a formerly negative term and turning it upside down. Ultimately, this mentality was used to fuel a pretty widespread resurgence of a genre that wasn’t taken seriously and was often scoffed at in it’s early days.
Best Shoegaze Bands For New Listeners
Where does the term ‘shoegazing’ come from? It was first used to make fun of bands on stage who looked down “at their feet” for most of the show.
What the negative users of the term may or may not have realized is that there was an unavoidable reason for their downward gaze.
This style of music features artistic use of pedal distortion, guitar effects and often utilizes ethereal vocal effects to create a dreamy and atmospheric presence.
Due to the need for use of this equipment during a live performance, members of the group needed to stay focused on the pedals and other gear used for their music.
If they weren’t looking down “at their feet”, there would be a higher likelihood for error. The people who paid for tickets to see them live would be confused if the music they heard before attending didn’t mirror the music they were hearing live.
Dream Pop vs. Shoegaze
(If you’ve ever attended a live concert, only to be disappointed by a lackluster live performance, you can understand why musicianship usually trumps unnecessary stage antics.) It’s also worth noting that the terms “dream pop” and “shoegaze” have been used interchangeably to describe the same genre.
Some of the groups listed below are classified as one or the other (and even both in some cases). All in all, the genre is ultimately defined as a creative mixture of indie and alternative rock. Some groups take it further than others and implement more experimentation while others, more or less, stick to their guns.
We separated each band into 3 main categories:
Now that you have some important background information – let’s take a look at some of the early pioneers (and adopters of the label) as well as a few current acts that are definitely worth listening to.
The Early Pioneers
In this section, we listed 4 of the most well-known early pioneers for this hybrid style of music. These guys paved the way for the future acts who perform a similar style. What came first, the chicken or the egg? – In this case, definitely the chicken.
1. My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine had a pretty short run from 1988 to 1991, only releasing 2 full-length albums in that time. In 2013, they relased their third album titled m b v .
After several years of inactivity and multiple lineup changes, they’re currently working on a fourth release.
Loveless marked their second release and still holds up after more than 2 decades have passed. To call these guys early pioneers is a bit of an understatement since they were able to transcend single genre classifications and receive praise from both die-hard and casual fans.
You can listen to the full audio version of “When You Sleep” off Loveless below:
Swervedriver have released 5 albums total since they formed in 1989. Their early work on Mezcal Head is characterized by it’s upbeat atmosphere and is commonly listed among some of the greatest all-time albums in this realm.
On their debut release, they created a heavier-sounding record that’s faster, louder, and (at times) more chaotic than similarly-categorized albums at the time.
It’s hard to pin their music down to a single genre since it tends to shift around from time to time, although never fully venturing outside of the foundation they laid all those years ago.
Check out their video for “Setting Sun” below to understand their dynamic musical ability:
Slowdive (formed in 1989) helped lay the foundation for the genre when they released Just For A Day – a record that would become one of the most seminal bodies of work in the early 90s.
Nearly 2 decades after their initial parting of ways, they got back together to start working on their fourth full-length album titled Slowdive.
Even after years of inactivity from the band, they were able to maintain the fan’s interest and their 2017 self-titled release garnered the attention of both old and new fans.
To see (and hear) what they’ve been up to, watch the official “Sugar for the Pill” video below:
Ride had a similarly rocky history and broke up only six years after their forming. During those first 6 years, they were able to release 4 full-length albums.
Their debut release Nowhere consistently ranks on more than a few Greatest Albums of the 90s compilation lists and is considered to be one of the most important shoegazing albums, period.
In 2014 they decided to re-group and released Weather Diaries in 2017. It has yet to be seen if it will be able to secure the same timeless status as their debut, as only time will tell.
You can listen to “In A Different Place” (from Nowhere) below:
These next 6 acts are considered to be a few of the classics by fans of the genre. Some of them are no longer recording or performing music together, but their contributions were timeless and made an unforgettable impact.
After all, what significance can a genre claim if it doesn’t have any classics to look back on? A few of the classics also double as early pioneers, but we felt they deserved a specific classification apart from that.
Lush formed in 1987 and released 4 albums until announcing their break up in 1998. Two years previous to their announcement, one of their members took his own life which (in large part) contributed to their decision for taking an indefinite hiatus.
Fitting simultaneously in between the early pioneers and classics – Lush wasn’t phased by the negative connotations associated with being labeled as shoegazers.
Instead, they adopted an attitude that was free of ego which led them to continue performing in a way that demonstrated they were regular people, just like everyone else.
Here’s the official video for “Sweetness and Light” from Gala (which served as their official introduction to both Japanese and US markets):
6. Catherine Wheel
Catherine Wheel is no longer active, but the 5 full-length albums they left in their wake helped cement their place in shoegazing history.
Ferment (their debut release) is widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time in the genre. During their time together, spanning eight years total, Catherine Wheel made their mark and weren’t afraid to step outside the lines that were drawn around them.
On Happy Days (released in 1995) they did just that – holding onto elements from their previous records while this time borrowing heavier elements. This led to a noticeably darker overall feeling and the track listing definitely reflects that sentiment.
Take a look at their video for “Crank” from Chrome to get a better idea of what to expect:
7. Pale Saints
Pale Saints are no longer active as a group but their 1992 release In Ribbons will go down in history as one of the most important albums of it’s kind.
In 1990, the original vocalist from Lush joined the group and contributed guitar as well as vocals. In 1996, they announced their parting of ways after releasing a total of 3 full-length albums.
Former members have since taken up solo projects but their work together continues to inspire future acts, while at the same time grabbing a few new fans.
Here’s the full audio for one of the stand-out tracks from In Ribbons titled “Hair Shoes”:
Moose formed in 1990 and released a total of 4 full-length albums during the time before their break up. Their debut record titled …XYZ features deeper vocals than many of the other bands featured here.
This variance in vocal style serves as a distinguishing factor which also contributes to the extremely unique sonic atmosphere.
Their early history, marked by a lack of widespread commercial success wasn’t enough to stop the train. Although nearly completely undiscovered by the mainstream audience, the contributions from Moose were important nonetheless.
Listen to “The Whistling Song” below from ..XYZ at loud volume for full effect:
9. Blonde Readhead
Blonde Redhead has managed to stay active since their formation in 1993. Misery Is A Butterfly (released in 2004) was among their first few efforts to fully incorporate the dream pop sonic structure that was previously lacking, for the most part.
They have a pretty diverse collection of albums to listen to but starting around 2004 and 2007 with another full-length titled 23, their musical evolution started to form and take shape.
The artwork, imagery, and at times obscure melodies make them an act to look out for – as well as a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Here’s the official video for “Melody” from Misery Is A Butterfly:
One of Curve‘s most popular tracks “Hell Above Water” (see video below) was featured in the trailer for Spider Man 2 and Iron Man. After a solid 15 year run, they decided to call it quits leaving behind 5 total full-length records.
Gift was one of their most well-received mainstream albums with “Perish”, “Hell Above Water”, and “Gift” serving as the most memorable stand-outs.
Doppelganger (their debut full-length) is their most critically-revered album as it was a step in a different direction. Curve infused the standard shoegazing elements, as well as sprinkling in some noise-inspired electronic music. This served to separate them from the rest of the crowd, allowing for a new space to occupy.
Here’s the audio for “Hell Above Water” from Gift:
Current Acts Carrying The Torch
The last 10 acts on our list are the ones carrying the torch and carving their own path into the history of the genre. Some of them have strayed a little bit farther off the beaten path – to the point where they’re creating an almost totally-new sound. It’ll be exciting to see what direction they take in the future. For now, here’s some of their current work to listen to.
11. Silversun Pickups
Silversun Pickups is another group that isn’t afraid to experiment with different genres. Their fourth release titled Better Nature straddles the line between alternative rock and dreamier pop tunes on “Friendly Fires” and “Nightlight”.
On their earlier albums, their sound has been compared to a hybrid mixture of Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine. After releasing 4 full-length records, they’re still moving forward and haven’t experienced any major lineup changes since their inception in 2000.
The ultra-catchy “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” has a sound that’s reminiscent of the early dream pop pioneers – but with a fresh twist and unique sonic structure.
Watch the official video for “Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)” below to get a sample:
Jesu is one of the heavier, darker sounding collective’s featured on this list. The group got together after the break up of Godflesh (and they carried a similar sentiment over to this project).
(Godflesh has since gotten back together and are currently active.) Jesu’s debut self titled release features minimal vocals and instead lets the music carry most of the weight.
When the vocals do arrive, their a much-welcomed presence – serving to add yet another layer to the already complex song structure. Musically heavier than most of the other bands here, controlled chaos that’s offset by laid back vocals and slow delivery define Jesu and their total of 5 full-length contributions thus far.
You can listen to the full audio for “Sun Day” below:
Although M83 is primarily known for making electronic music, their earlier work on Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts features a creative blend of electronic and the emotional undertones featured on many shoegazing albums.
Their debut (released in 2003) is among their most beloved records by fans of the genre. It’s also been named as one of the greatest shoegazing albums of all time which to genre purists might seem like somewhat of a stretch.
Overall, M83 has a lot to offer and proves that experimentation goes a long way towards helping to keep music fresh and exciting.
Here’s the audio for “Noise”, which is one of the stand-out tracks from Dead Cities:
Whirr formed in 2010 and hasn’t let their foot off the pedal since. They released Pipe Dreams in 2012 and a second full-length titled Sway two years later.
Both albums (and their collection of EPs) showcase an atmosphere that extreme purists as well as newcomers to the genre can enjoy. High-arcing, far-reaching instrumentation offset by wispy, nearly indiscernible vocal melodies on Pipe Dreams help create a very heady and spacious soundscape.
Fans of Explosions In The Sky and other related groups will be able to appreciate the vast landscape of sonic structure and display of musical talent that Whirr has to offer.
Here’s the full audio for “Sway” off their 2014 self-titled release:
Alcest (formed in 2000 as a solo project) soon recruited a few more members and continued to release black metal albums until 2010 when they gave us Écailles de Lune. It was almost as if they stumbled upon a never-heard-before fusion of black metal and all-encompassing shoegazing elements.
It wasn’t until 2014 when they released Shelter that they fully embraced the stylistic staples of dream pop. “Opale” is one of the most-listened to tracks off Shelter and the imagery used in the official video perfectly accompanies the song’s vibe and atmosphere.
In 2016, Alcest released Kodama which maintains the sentiment represented on Shelter, while also returning to their earlier work and playing what’s been dubbed as “Blackgaze”. Never boring and ever unpredictable, Alcest continues to innovate and keep everyone on their toes.
Here’s the official video for “Opale”:
Stylistically, DIIV plays music that’s primarily classified as indie rock but often times veers into experimental territory bordering on a sound that’s exclusively dream pop.
Since they formed in 2011, they released Oshin (in 2012) and Is the Is Are (in 2016). “Doused”, as seen in the video below, has an upbeat feel that’s partially reminiscent of The Beatles while also maintaining their roots in shoegazing.
Overall, DIIV has received critical praise and is another one of the current acts to keep an ear out for.
Here’s the official video for “Doused”:
17. True Widow
True Widow is another genre-innovator and plays a style of music that grabs influences from doom/stoner metal as well as dream pop and indie rock.
Their self-titled album (released in 2008) features a heavy, dark undertone that adds a new perspective on the genre. The longer, slower, and crawling tracks may move at a slower pace – but losing interest is completely out of question.
True Widow’s music has been dubbed “stonegaze” due to it’s laid back pacing and cerebral lyrical subject matter. They’ve succeeded in creating records and songs that have the ability to bridge genre gaps while also staying true to their own extremely unique sound and song structure.
You can watch the official video for “A.K.A.” from their debut self-titled release below:
18. Beach House
Beach House has caught the attention of both critics and casual fans alike. Their music instantly pulls you in and holds your attention due to it’s easy-to-digest, but never boring cinematic presence.
Their 2018 release titled 7 hangs tightly onto the dream pop label they’ve accepted and is among some of the best-selling vinyl records today. “Lemon Glow” provides a new look at the infinite room for innovation and improvement within any genre.
Even as far back as their self titled debut, Beach House made it clear that they weren’t just another band to add to the pile. Creative implementation adding just enough guitar distortion and vocals that rest softly over the top are two things that define Beach House and set them apart as a current act to keep an eye on.
Here’s the official audio for “Other People” from their 2012 release Bloom:
19. Echo Lake
Echo Lake have picked up where some of the early pioneers left off and gladly picked up the torch. “In Dreams” (from their debut Wild Peace) isn’t very far removed from the sound you would expect from a group that’s fully committed to this genre.
The visual aspects of “Waves” (seen below) fit the sonic atmosphere perfectly. Echo Lake is another current act that deserves your attention if you’re interested in fully diving into the pool of modern dream pop.
Although they haven’t been around for very long, they’ve proven that they have no intention of making an exit any time soon.
Watch the official video for “Waves” from Era (released in 2015) below:
Nothing really started it off with a bang when they released Guilty of Everything in 2014. Tracks like “Endlessly” and “Hymn to the Pillory” present a gigantic-sounding wave of audio that’s completely undeniable.
They’ve also chosen to implement darker imagery in many of their music videos which only adds more layers to the overall package. Album titles such as Tired of Tomorrow and Guilty of Everything are a good indicator of what you can expect to hear.
There is no haphazard attempt from Nothing to mask the lyrical content or heavy subject matter which adds to the honesty and authenticity of their music – a defining characteristic of the greatest music out there, regardless of genre.
Here’s the official video for “Zero Day” to help you more fully grasp what Nothing has to offer:
Are You Gazing At Your Shoes Yet?
Hopefully you enjoyed at least a few of our selections – we think you will. It should at the very least help you continue your own search for great music within a less-popular genre among the mainstream audience.
Either way, you’ll probably end up making a few of your own discoveries along the way. Which one of the Best Shoegaze Bands here was your favorite? Did we give you enough to choose from, or at least a good foundation?
Can you think of any artists that should’ve been included on our list? Let us know you what you think in the comments below, we’d love to hear your thoughts! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below as well.
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Thanks for stopping by and tuning in, we look forward to hearing from you!
Sonic Elevation: Ride The Waves.