Reviews

Review: Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995 box set

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Guest SDE reviewer Nico Pleimling casts his eyes downwards to review Cherry Red’s recent five-CD set, Still in a Dream: The Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995… 

You could say, these days, that there’s no business like shoe business. In the wake of the reunion of bands such as Ride, Slowdive, Swervedriver and Lush, as well as the recent spawning of a wealth of young bands – mostly from the U.S. and to be discovered on the budget compilations of Saint Marie Records – Cherry Red Records have recently released a lavish box set that takes the listener back to the period at end of the 1980s until the early 1990s in order to present a wealth of bands whose sound was labelled as Shoegaze.

Whereas prior to this, the musical scene had mostly been labelled by genre tags such as Blues, Jazz, Rock’n’Roll, Punk etc, during the 7-year period between 1988 and 1995 it was the sound and not the musical style that had the final say in determining a label for the bunch of musicians and bands that created it.

Of course, it was the press that came up with the not so flattering term ‘Shoegaze’ in reference to the musicians mostly being preoccupied in staring at the effect pedals that they manipulated with their feet. It was the same press that hailed Shoegaze in the beginning and then later turned its back on this new breed of Indie guitar bands in favour of – as it later turned out – less influential, but at the time fashionable genres such as Britpop and Grunge.

The emergence and subsequent death of Shoegaze gets its long overdue tribute and an in-depth analysis in an accompanying booklet with two essays – 12.000 words from journalist Neil Taylor and a shorter text with an American perspective by Jack Rabid (editor of The Big Takeover and former Springhouse drummer) – in the new Cherry Red box set. Further, each of the 87 bands included here get a short biographical note combined with an introductory text to their featured song. To the surprise of listeners that are not so familiar with the Shoegaze label, the five CDs offer a vast palette of different genres, the 87 tracks featuring one or more of the typical trademark elements associated with Shoegaze: droning riffs, a wall of sound from distorted guitars, dreamlike vocals and haunting melodies as well as elements of psychedelia to electronic music with a fair amount of repetition, another key element of Shoegaze.

Whereas this awesomely packaged compilation – at first sight – features some unlikely or far-fetched contributions, a few key bands are desperately missed on it. The absence of My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star, Stereolab, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Verve and Levitation are explained in the liner notes because of licensing restrictions. Even though their inclusion here is missed, the five CDs offer enough listening material and bands worth (re)-discovering.

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A good compensation for artists not found on Still in a Dream is the presence of some of the so-called godfathers of Shoegaze, like The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cocteau Twins or Galaxie 500 which illustrates that the Shoegaze sound did not suddenly come out of nowhere, but rather it’s closely linked to the evolution of 1980s Indie. Except for the bands that could not be included due to licensing restrictions, all the darlings of the period and many more are to be found on Still in a Dream. A few examples are Slowdive, Lush, Ride, The House of Love, Ultra Vivid Scene, Loop, Pale Saints, The Darkside, Cranes, Catherine Wheel, Curve, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized. Whereas the first three discs display the better bigger names, the fourth CD features lesser-known bands and the final disc gives something of an overview of how Shoegaze evolved ever since its heyday.

A lot of the material featured in this box set can be closely linked to some 1960s bands as well as New Wave heroes New Order or The Cure, bands that are well established today. It is therefore not surprising that a decent amount of Shoegaze bands finally also get their bit of recognition in the new millennium. Slowdive for example were bashed by the press once they released their second album, Souvlaki, and especially their swan song Pygmalion, a record that is now considered as a direct precursor of the work of Icelandic heroes Sigur Rós.

As with most compilations, the compilers of Still in a Dream had to make choices. Whether the right ones were made is of course up to each individual listener who will most likely find some of his favourites of some bands, yet be disappointed that a lesser song has replaced a what they consider to be a key track from some outfit. These choices are of course subjective, yet sometimes also linked to licensing matters for specific tracks.

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Still in a Dream could have included more rarities, possibly remixes, b-sides or cover versions. But the subtitle A Story of Shoegaze suggests that the narrative could continue and that this box set could be the first one in a series. That’s up to the people over at Cherry Red Records and will also depend on the commercial success of this release.

Overall, Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988 – 1995 is an excellent retrospective about a scene that finally gets the recognition it deserves. This release will most likely appeal to all those who listened to at least a handful of the featured bands back then and to a younger generation that is willing to discover music that mostly stood the test of time. For about £36 (or €50), this five-CD box set with insightful essays and liner notes is good value.

Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze is out now.


Review by Nico Pleimling for SDE.

track_listing

shoegaze_2

CD1

  1. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Rollercoaster
  2. The Cocteau Twins – Cherry-Coloured Funk
  3. The House Of Love – Christine
  4. A.R. Kane – Baby Milk Snatcher (12” Version)
  5. Ultra Vivid Scene – Mercy Seat (12” Version)
  6. Spacemen 3 – Hypnotized
  7. Loop – Arc-lite (sonar)
  8. 14 Iced Bears – Surfacer
  9. Galaxie 500 – Tugboat
  10. The Prayers – Puppet Clouds
  11. Kitchens Of Distinction – The 3rd Time We Opened The Capsule
  12. A.C. Marias – One Of Our Girls Has Gone Missing
  13. The Telescopes – Precious Little
  14. Pale Saints – Sight Of You
  15. Jane From Occupied Europe – Ocean Run Dry
  16. Sonic Boom – Angel

CD2

  1. Ride – Drive Blind
  2. Lush – De-luxe
  3. See See Rider – Slip So Slow
  4. Nightblooms – Crystal Eyes
  5. The Darkside – Waiting For The Angels
  6. Velocity Girl – I Don’t Care If You Go
  7. Cranes – Inescapable
  8. Chapterhouse – Falling Down
  9. Whipping Boy – Switchblade Smile
  10. The Boo Radleys – Kaleidoscope
  11. Swervedriver – Rave Down
  12. Slowdive – Slowdive
  13. The Charlottes – Liar
  14. Dr. Phibes & The House Of Wax Equations – Sugarblast
  15. Bleach – Decadence
  16. Catherine Wheel – She’s My Friend (wilde Club Version)
  17. Blow-up – Somersault Sunrise
  18. Bark Psychosis – All Different Things

CD3

  1. Curve – Ten Little Girls
  2. The Dylans – Godlike
  3. Th’ Faith Healers – Gorgeous Blue Flower In My Garden
  4. The Lilys – February Fourteenth
  5. The Honey Smugglers – Good Afternoon
  6. Spirea X – Chlorine Dream
  7. Moonshake – Gravity
  8. Spitfire – Translucent
  9. Moose – Suzanne
  10. Spiritualized – Run
  11. Revolver – Heaven Sent An Angel
  12. Lowlife – June Wilson
  13. The Ecstasy Of Saint Theresa – Square Wave
  14. Black Tambourine – By Tomorrow
  15. Whipped Cream – Explosion
  16. Smashing Orange – My Deranged Heart
  17. The Hinnies – Gong
  18. Bang Bang Machine – Geek Love (original 12” Version)

CD4

  1. The Sunflowers – Closer
  2. Drop – Mirrored
  3. The Belltower – In Hollow
  4. Sweet Jesus – Phonefreak Honey
  5. Adorable – Sunshine Smile
  6. Sun Dial – I Don’t Mind
  7. Swallow – Sugar Your Mind
  8. Drop Nineteens – Winona
  9. Flaming Lips – Talkin’ ’bout The Smiling Deathporn Immortality Blues (Everyone Wants To Live Forever)
  10. Medicine – Aruca
  11. Coaltar Of The Deepers – Charming Sister Kiss Me Dead!!
  12. The Honey Buzzards – Starhappy
  13. Loveliescrushing – Babysbreath
  14. Majesty Crush – No. 1 Fan
  15. The Swirlies – Park The Car By The Side Of The Road
  16. Submarine – Chemical Tester
  17. Bailter – Space Shine
  18. Spectrum – True Love Will Find You In The End
  19. Blind Mr. Jones – Spooky Vibes

CD5

  1. An April March – Memory
  2. Flying Saucer Attack – Soaring High
  3. Drugstore – Alive
  4. Secret Shine – Loveblind
  5. Mercury Rev – Bronx Cheer
  6. The Curtain Society – Chelsea
  7. Seefeel – Plainsong
  8. Spindrift – Surround Sound
  9. Rollerskate Skinny – Miss Leader
  10. Bardo Pond – Die Easy
  11. Alison’s Halo – Dozen
  12. Swirl – The Last Unicorn
  13. Bowery Electric – Next To Nothing
  14. Bethany Curve – Me Voy
  15. Astrobrite – Orange Creamsickle
  16. Luna – 23 Minutes In Brussels

 

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20 responses to Review: Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1988-1995 box set

  1. Charles K. says:

    Great review, it is pretty amazing how much more influential this genre became in later years compared to Grunge, etc. It’s akin to how influential Velvet and The Stooges were under the radar compared to bigger bands of the era. I can remember seeing Death Cab and The Shins when they were still playing local clubs in the NW and thinking they must have been fans of that scene. Time and time again the music presently being ignored by the masses ends up being the wave of the future.

    It cracks me up seeing Cocteau Twins included though, they end up on Goth, Post Punk and even New Age compilations all the time. I think they are so unique that people struggle to pigeon hole them. While I won’t argue with their inclusion here, it just proves the overall influence they had across the board.

  2. Stevo says:

    Actually I don’t think that grunge and shoegaze was that far apart. Swervedriver sat firmly alongside the likes of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr, and then most of the late 80s bands sold out to Britpop.

  3. Daran says:

    @ Charles K. If only we could get some remasters / SDE’s for the Cocteau’s. I read it was Liz who wants nothing to do with it anymore. Anybody know the truth with that? There is so little news on the internet about them. I can’t think of many more influential or popular bands that have vanished so completely from view. I think it’s 10 years since the last CD re-release. Maybe one day…..

    • Charles K. says:

      They were remastered by Guthrie a number of years back and that may be all she wrote. They were recorded pretty bad to begin with at least the earlier albums so there may not be much more they could do. Someone else might have more info than me though.

      • Mark Turrell says:

        not sure what would go on a SDE for the CT’s.
        I think everything that could be released, has been released, and remastered (Apart from the harold budd album moon and the melodies). The two volume singles compilation missed off some 12″ or 7″ versions of songs and in some cases used an alternate version, so you need to keep the singles box set). The bonus tracks from Garlands were absent from the remastered version, and there’s the odd song given away for free on 7″s given away with british music weeklies). The recent deluxe vinyl editions contain some alternate mixes according to the Cocteau’s FB page.

    • cory eling says:

      The originals are the best your going to get in my opinion
      And as Charles K. stated they were remastered in 2004 with excessive compression added (loud)
      Heaven or Las Vegas and Blue Bell Knoll received the Hi-Rez treatment in 2014 not using the Guthrie remasters, no added compression with Fifty-Fifty Clown and Frou Frou using unique outro’s
      2015 saw the Hi-Rez of the compilation The Pink Opaque and the EP’s Tiny Dynamine and Echos, these were compressed to the hilt…
      And again as Charles stated, the studio recordings aren’t audiophile grade, I believe no amount of remastering is going to improve on them, just make them worse as I think the above are, In my opinion of course :)

  4. Paul Kennedy says:

    Nice review..Saw many of those bands at the time….some surprise inclusions and some surprise omissions …Missing for me are a band who were recently mentioned on BBC 6 by Steve lamo …Cut Cut Emma ..They played with many of the bands on this compilation and in many cases put a lot of the bands on this comp in the shade…..The Boos were big fans..

  5. Paul English says:

    The Cocteau Twins remasters are shockingly bad. The worst I have ever heard. Guthrie should not have been let near them. Ear bleeders, vocals pushed high, ultra-compressed. The best way to experience the Cocteaus is on vinyl, or failing that, the original CDs.

    This is a nice box set but the packaging sucks. Five separate jewel cases in a bigger box would be way better.

  6. Richard says:

    Amazed The Drop Nineteens didn’t make the cut, the one US band who really embraced shoegaze at the time, Winona may be one of the best songs ever!

  7. Jorje Chica says:

    Author and Post-punk historian Simon Reynolds wrote a lengthy and scholarly review of this box set for Pitchfork. It is worth a read.
    http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/21499-still-in-a-dream-a-story-of-shoegaze-1988-1995/

  8. Daran says:

    Forgive my rant, but unfortunately Jorje to read that it would mean we actually have to visit Pitchfork website , and they are the most grotesque and ludicrous music reviewers on the planet! Biased towards anything that is youth, cool or hip in their eyes, everything else gets slammed with no mercy shown regardless if it’s good or not. More pretension is shown in their reviews than Paul Morley could ever muster. I believe the boss of Pf rates music as a 6.3 enjoyment score in life overall! Wasn’t that the joke on Saturday Night Live when they were taking the mickey out of them…. How do they ever get the .decimal point score worked out? What utter nonsense Pitchfork is. Thank God SDE and other sites exist to give (heaven forbid) popular music it’s credit and fair dues. Most stuff Paul puts on SDE would be **torn to shreds** by the hipsters at Pitchfork, but as we all know they would not lower their pretension / cool levels to review many of the artists featured on SDE let’s not give them any plugs or respect. Please let us keep SDE a Pf free zone. Sorry again Jorje, but the very mention of that website makes me angry.

  9. Astral says:

    This comment is about as out of date as the idea that Pitchfork is still a hipster online zine. You’re referring to Pitchfork 1.o circa 2003.

  10. Daran says:

    No, sorry. I am referring to the Pitchfork of today. They have not changed their spots so to speak. I have unfortunately been lured back occasionally to read some of the rubbish they spout out, usually out of mere curiosity from seeing some awful Pf review score listed on the Wiki page for individual albums. I rate their reviews as 1.3 out if ten. Seeing Bono and Edge crawling to the boss of Pf in an interview for NLOTH was one of the most degrading things I have seen any major artist do. I was thinking whilst watching it, ‘Bono just tell him to F’off and that his stupid website sucks.’

  11. Richard Hare says:

    I wouldn’t prejudge Simon Reynolds’ writing on the basis of where it happens to be published. His “Rip It Up And Start Again” remains my favourite book on music, with Giles Smith’s “Lost In Music” a close second.

  12. SimonP says:

    I always knew this genre as shoegazing. When did the _ing get swapped for the _e? And why wasn’t I told about it?!

  13. Jorje Chica says:

    Thank you, Richard. I am in no way endorsing Pitchfork, but Simon Reynolds.

    Daran, if you don’t like Pitchfork, then don’t follow the link. Simple as that. Rant-free living.

  14. Sam Matheson says:

    So, any word about the sound quality on this set? Did Cherry Red get it right, or are there some of the usual mistakes in evidence like digital distortion or evidently using MP3s as masters?

  15. Sam Matheson says:

    Richard (re Feb 25 post): I’d argue that, among the US bands, the Lilys better captured the shoegaze sound than the Drop Nineteens, who were pretty inconsistent. Nice to see the Lily’s debut single (and salute to MBV) “February Fourteenth” is included here.

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