Five weeks into the semester and with all the assignments, exams and personal upkeep, college might feel like the farthest place from paradise — at least on the weekdays.
But if you need help in falling into a trance-like state evocative of clouds and angels, shoegaze delivers, only with electric guitars instead of harps.
Last week, I compared rock and roll to the devil, and because I think purgatory is boring and nearly impossible to musically write about, I’m taking a stairway straight to heaven. And what type of bands are more infatuated with producing a heavenly sound than shoegaze?
Shoegaze, a type of spaced-out, reverberated rock/pop music from England in the 90s, often calls upon imagery of Elysian Fields to create an atmosphere of peace and comfort. Although the guitars wail and the drums crash, nothing about shoegaze feels sinister and foreboding. For the most part, bands who shoegaze focus more on the light and dreamlike rather than the heavy and realistic. Singers explore surrealistic themes and tend to create choruses from short phrases and advice to listeners.
In Beach House’s “Used to Be,” Victoria Legrand sings “Don’t forget the nights/When it all felt right.” Many lyric whispered by shoegaze singers evoke sadness but also some kind of underlying hope. The struggle to remain optimistic in the climate of being drowned out by noise creates a sense of perseverance, a subtle replication of daily life.
Upon hearing titles such as “Heaven or Las Vegas,” “More Stars Than There Are in Heaven,” “Ninety Ninety Heaven” and A Storm in Heaven, it’s clear that there’s some ethereal energy going on. And it makes total sense.
The echoing and swirling guitars in shoegaze meet the ears with encompassing emotion. If done right, the mix ends up akin to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” technique and becomes as dense as it is beautiful.
The lyrics of a recently-released song, “Shadow” by Chromatics, delve into hometown angst and suppressed wanderlust. But one could almost forget they were stuck in a small town with the celestial tone and optimism. It’s song that moves past good and evil and searches for some heavenly plane to exist. At least, that’s how I think the band intended it.
The negative feelings in shoegaze — depression, heartache, death — are depicted more as mystical obstacles than representations of evil. Whereas rock and roll feels very Western, shoegaze manages to feel exceedingly Eastern. Perhaps, the ambiguous lyrics about love, life and happiness ask more questions than they answer. And nothing ever feel truly lost or complete.
Initially, shoegaze bands might have adopted the angelic imagery from their alternative and goth rock predecessors like The Cure with “Just Like Heaven” and Echo & the Bunnymen with “Heaven Up Here.” The only separation between the three genres rests on how high the guitarist sets his or her reverb knob. The Jesus and Mary Chain bridges the qualities of these two approaches well.
But the morality of shoegazing songwriters extends far beyond the complexity of most rock songs. Shoegaze transcends the rules of music and progresses forward with lush viscerality and dream-logic.
So if you ever come home from class or work feeling like the world is a living hell, you know where to go to climb the ladder out. At least, I do.