Nearly a decade ago, I was at an awards ceremony featuring an interesting panel pitting young upstart music journalists against some of the old guard. The young insulted and dismissed the old while the old just let it roll off their backs. One young writer referred to Lester Bangs as a sexist, racist pig, unaware that she was seated next to the executor of Bangs' written legacy. Later, that reserved executor said something I've never forgotten. In response to one editor boasting that it's the young who give the old new direction, he just shook his head and said, "It's not about when you got on the bus, but that you got on the bus at all."
Maybe it's because of that calm retort, but I've never been a critic who scoffs upon learning that someone is discovering a band I've been fanatical about for ages. I love turning people on to music I've been swooning to for 15 years, lending them much-played, out of print, or import albums and watching them get as excited as I was, and still am. Recently, an extremely well-learned music writer told me he'd just heard Ride for the first time, and I lent him my imports, because if there's one genre I'm fanatical about, it's shoegazer, and I have it all in complete collections.
I'm an absolute geek about shoegazer bands, and for a great while I couldn't even mention the genre in conversation without flinching because, well, some folks hadn't gotten on the bus yet. To most it was just a stupid bunch of bands that sang melancholic songs over a maelstrom of sonic aggression while making little to no eye contact with the audience--hence the moniker shoegazer.
I felt the genre coming back a couple of years ago, though, when Black Rebel Motorcycle Club brought the sound of Jesus and Mary Chain to the college radio charts, and a handful of local bands popped up who were obviously influenced by earlier shoegazer acts such as the Telescopes, the aforementioned Jesus and Mary Chain, and My Bloody Valentine. Now you have bands like Voyager One, Kinski, the Warlocks, and Phaser (who just toured the East Coast with Interpol) continuing that sound into 2003.
Another mark of the reemergence of the shoegazer sound is a reissue from Ride, one of the bands now epitomizing the genre, even though they came a few years after that first '80s wave. Their singles and B-sides have been collected on one disc, OX4, which was recently released domestically, and now Ride is currently getting airtime on KEXP. Goody.
This new growing spotlight takes me back a decade. Catherine Wheel's first two albums, Ferment ('92) and Chrome ('93), are ass-kicking shoegazer documents, angry and metallic yet rhapsodic at the same time. Chrome's "Kill Rhythm" is near anthemic as singer Rob Dickinson (cousin to Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson) spits out, "Five years of nothing good!" then encourages the listener to "shout, get it out." Years before the Verve hit mainstream with Urban Hymns, they released A Storm in Heaven and a self-titled EP that are absolutely bursting with amazing guitars, blending acoustic with aggressive electric, culminating in the band's 1995 release A Northern Soul, which soared with epic guitar frenzy. I tossed Urban Hymns aside for years because that fucking "The Drugs Don't Work" single was awful. But "Come On" is pure old-school Verve, with its angry shouts of "Fuck You!" underneath the wash of guitars.
24 Hour Party People--an excellent film about the roots of what would come to be known as Brit Pop--surely added to the retro trend, and I couldn't be happier. I'm dragging out cassettes, for chrissakes, playing them on my crap-ass boom box that has two volume settings: too quiet and too loud. I've got a cassette of Jesus and Mary Chain's Barbed Wire Kisses that has a great chunk of plastic missing but still plays too loud just fine.
You can borrow it if you like.