Hey, how’s it going? Probably not great if you’re reading this article. You saw the title, right?
“I Listen To Shoegaze Alone Because I Am A Lonely Rat Man”? Yeeeesh. But here you are.
Let me guess, that cute girl stood you up because she “just totally had to write that essay,” so you’re locking your door, going incognito, and listening to Cocteau Twins tonight, right? Don’t worry bud, I get it. We’ve all been there.
There’s a lot of music out there about love — a lot of it happy, a lot of it sad — but most of the time, it can’t come close to a good shoegaze tune. Why is this? Well, I have a theory that holds no basis in actual music theory, which is good because music theory sucks and is for nerds.
I believe that some music genres can serve as great annihilators: psych rock the annihilator of your reality, noise rock the annihilator of your brain, punk rock the annihilator of yuppie skulls, etcetera, etcetera. I believe Shoegaze music, when good, can be the complete and total annihilator of your entire being. Getting lost in the waves and walls and tones of that perfect song, it can wash away the detritus and debris that line the inside of your heart, much in the way being in love can.
First, a quick disclaimer. I’m aware that shoegaze isn’t a genre exclusively about love and heartbreak, or whatever. All I am asserting is that no other form of music comes close to reflecting the feelings that one goes through when experiencing these things. This is my own subjective opinion, and I’m a hack fraud, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt.
Most media makes love out to be this blissed out and euphoric experience, one that completely validates an existence. Something so singular and eternal and complete: never-ending waves of divine sunshine gushing out of every orifice all at once. In truth, there’s nothing like that in the real world. Maybe heroin. Don’t do heroin, by the way.
Anyway, contrary to popular thought, love is NOT a drug. And it’s about time someone said it about that tired cliché, so you’re welcome. Love is, however, an infectious disease, a brain parasite, a fever that WILL kill you 100% of the time, or at least parts of you, tearing you limb by limb and grafting newer, sicklier replacements to you as you fall ill again, and again, and again. And that’s if you’re lucky.
It’s messy, like a sea of honey: intoxicatingly sweet, threatening to swallow you whole, drown you, and most likely leave you very sticky.
Sound familiar? Yeah, baby — it’s shoegaze.
And that’s the thing. So much music is about this damned nebulous concept, but it takes a special type of music to encapsulate everything that comes with the big “L” word. The warmth of it, the delirium, the messiness. If Souvlaki were a human being, I’d want to wake up next to her in the morning every day. Any cowboy crooner can wax poetic about how his Louisiana love left him with a broken guitar and a broken heart. Don’t get me wrong, that stuff’s the tits. But that cowboy can’t hold a candle to Bilinda Butcher. By the way, it’s a crying shame that there’s never been a country-shoegaze style hybrid on a large scale, it’d probably be a crossover hit. But I digress.
The point I’m trying to get at here is that it doesn’t really matter what it specifically is that’s being communicated in a lot of this music. You don’t need to hear someone singing about how sad they are, how rotten this entire love thing is – you feel it all at once intuitively, with the lyrics obscured behind curtains of sound. Or alternatively, you can feel the absolute headrush of falling and laughing, madly and stupidly into someone else, all through a melody wrapped in reverb. And when we can make out those lyrics, oh man, it feels like something whispered to you in a half remembered dream.
“When I look at you… Oh, I don’t know what’s real… Once in a while… And you make me laugh”
“When You Sleep,” My Bloody Valentine
“And me I am your dagger… You know I am your wound”
“Fucking Phil, he’s off on his board somewhere and I’m just sitting here getting more and more lost with everything.”
“Kick The Tragedy,” Drop Nineteens
I’d like to bring up one album in particular, one that you’re probably rolling your eyes at already. Yeah, it’s Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. There have been volumes upon volumes written about this album, MBV’s seminal masterpiece. The massive impact it had on music of its kind, the meticulous and exhaustive production — I could go on, but I wouldn’t be saying anything new. When it comes to this album, I think the best way to talk about it is the individual, personal impact it has on the listener. (That’s you. And also me.)
For me, this album is like wearing an old sweater. Or a hot shower. Or wearing an old sweater in a hot shower. I always find myself coming back to it for it’s warmth. To this day, those four snare kicks that blast you into this album take me back to drunkenly telling a crush how much I wanted to hold them. Meeting someone new, obsessing over every aspect of them, and things inevitably falling apart. Long periods of time spent alone, isolated, without human contact. The only source of human warmth coming from a phone speaker pressed against my left ear because my roommate is trying to sleep and I lost my headphones.
And I really think that’s the draw of this kind of music. When you’re with people, you have a tendency to hold on to yourself so you can share whatever humanity you have with another person, and hopefully receive some in kind. But if you find yourself on your own, I recommend plugging in a pair of headphones, turning up the volume, and letting go. At least for a minute.
Shoegaze is messy music. So is love. In a lot of ways, the two really are a match made in heaven. Happy Valentines Day, ya filthy animals.
I slapped together a playlist full of some tunes I think are quite good AND on theme. Try not to cry too hard when you click on the link below. Trust me.
Jake Davis is a Cal Poly Journalism senior and a KCPR staff member. He wrote the article while trying not to cry.The illustrations were created by staff member Rialda Mustic.