December 26, 2006

Better Know A Music Genre (or Subgenre) Part I

Blatantly stolen from Stephen Colbert's "Better Know A District" segment from his widely popular Comedy Central late-night satire "The Colbert Report," I proudly introduce a new recurring feature here on AtD. "Better Know A Music Genre" seeks to introduce and educate both casual and dedicated music aficionados about the many, many categories into which the powers that be (namely critics, journalists, historians, etc.) classify every realization of modern music.

Music categorization is a subject that particularly strikes me so I intend to bring it up frequently on this blog. Something that should be noted, however, is the context in which the subject is brought up, because I both embrace and eschew the labeling and sub-labeling and sub-sub-labeling of music. I tend to think that for academic and critical purposes (as well as metrics and measurement), anal-retentively detailed classification is essential because it allows for conventions and language in writing about and analyzing all the many varied forms of music. Sometimes, however, you just want to listen to a song, or album, or artist because it strikes you in a particular way or because it brings about an emotional response. In these instances, it's not necessarily valuable to the listener whether a given song, album, or artist is indie, alternative, or punk. It's just a darn good tune.

With this in consideration, I will follow-up on this post some other time. For right now let's get right to part I of our series: "Better Know a Music Genre, Part I: Shoegaze."

First off, let's start off with a definition. Wikipedia offer the following:

Shoegazing is characterized by a self-deprecating, introspective, non-confrontational feel. Common musical elements are distortion and fuzzbox, droning riffs and a Phil Spector-esque wall of sound from noisy guitars. Typically two distorted rhythm guitars are played together and give an amorphous quality to the sound. Although lead guitar riffs were often present, they were not the central focus of most shoegazing songs.

Vocals are typically subdued in volume and tone, but underneath the layers of guitars is often a strong sense of melody. While the genres which influenced shoegazing often used drum machines, shoegazing more often features live drumming...

Since this explanation feels like it could leave behind some confusion, AllMusic says:
Shoegaze is a genre of late '80s and early '90s British indie rock, named after the bands' motionless performing style, where they stood on stage and stared at the floor while they played. But shoegaze wasn't about visuals -- it was about pure sound. The sound of the music was overwhelmingly loud, with long, droning riffs, waves of distortion, and cascades of feedback. Vocals and melodies disappeared into the walls of guitars, creating a wash of sound where no instrument was distinguishable from the other.
(For further detail, please consult the referenced websites.)

So basically you have an indistinguishable mess of distorted and fuzzy sounds that drowned out everything around as the vocals and typically the lyrics were absorbed. How about notable artists? You've got bands like My Bloody Valentine, The Boo Radleys, Lush, Ride, Slowdive, Loop, and a whole slew more.

Naturally, though, the best way to learn about something is to experience it directly for yourselves. So here are some examples of Shoegazing, with many thanks to YouTube for providing the content:

My Bloody Valentine - Soon

Chapterhouse - Mesmerize

Slowdive - Alison

Ride - Leave Them All Behind

Lush - For Love

That is, of course, just a small sampling of the Shoegazer movement. The Wikipedia and AllMusic resources have more to offer should your curiosity be peaked. In addition, this is an excellent article from 3:AM Magazine which thoroughly outlines the influences, history, and chronology of Shoegazing from its humble beginnings to its abrupt end. Although the style is more or less inactive, the retroactive nature of the industry and of the art certainly does not rule out its return in some fashion, and it's notable impact is certainly cemented in rock history. Bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and the Smashing Pumpkins, it can be argued, were influenced by Shoegazing, while very early Blur and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are credited as part of the genre. Even very recent material by bands such as Silversun Pickups, and Umbrellas falls under the purview of Shoegaze. As an example, their July 2006 release, "Illuminare," Status Magazine described as:
The sophomore album from Oklahoma City rockers UMBRELLAS. Ten songs of realistic love, infatuation, satisfaction, disappointment, life-balance and letting go performed with a backdrop of blustery fall-out tunes with strange swirls of sound, echoes, pulses, huge bass hammerings, and chiming bells. “Shoegaze played like pop. Trip hop played like straight-up rock...complex and downright beautiful.”--Status
In these ways and in the hearts of nostalgic 90's indie/britpop fans, Shoegazing wonders on.

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