In its first incarnation, shoegazing was barely a genre. It wasn’t a well-defined sound, and scarcely existed as a scene outside its own bubble. The term was part descriptor, part insult. Now it’s undergoing a great renaissance: Nowhere is 25, feted, and rebooted by a reunited Ride, and enough time has even passed for a follow-up to Loveless to squeeze its way out of Kevin Shields’ brain.
There’s a sense that Shoegazing is now more tangibly represented than in the past, when even bands associated with the scene were quickly disassociating themselves, stopping when they’d had enough. Moose were shoegazing until they clearly weren’t, Lush likewise. Ride tried on new footwear with varying degrees of success, while Slowdive morphed into Mojave 3.
Modern acolytes of the form are doing more than ever with the very idea of what shoegazing was, is, and could be.
Take Mythologies, for example. With its aposite name inspired by a collection of Roland Barthes essays about semiotics and myth, it offers riddles wrapped in mysteries, and hints at connections from past to future: an extracorporeal existence between the bounds of magic and reality.
Throughout, it takes shoegazing staples – distortion, texture, echoes, reverb – and combines them with percussive breaks and stops. It’s as if every flowing chord progression has to be halted in case it becomes too comfortable. The whole album is a journey of unknown origin, uncertain direction, along unmarked waypoints.
Opening track “Red Lakes (Sternstunden)” begins with vocals that sound backwards as well as forwards, and ends with snatches of German. Its title references the concept of a great moment, a decisive pivot in history. You consider whether this screams arrogance, before recalling the astrological interpretation of sternstunden as events dictated by the movements of the stars, the celestial workings beyond our grasp or control. “All connected in an infinite age” might be the first line of “In Flux” (distortion renders it difficult to catch), the track suggesting a greater knowledge than we possess. “Let us compare mythologies”, starts “Hey Sen”, before morphing into “Deli Rome”, itself flowering briefly through layer upon layer of reverb and more hard to make out vocals over a gently pulsing beat. There’s not much hook to hang on here, more a feeling of alchemic experimentation in layering.
“Colorado” pulls us further into the noise-well, down into the dense depths where everything is uniform, all unique properties subsumed into a wall of sound. Until the second half, where everything falls away. Pushing through the event horizon you reach a world of light patterns. Your brain tries to make sense of it as it would a dream; the resulting sound is the tantalising “Su-Pra”, which dissolves even as you strain to contain it. Then a moment of clarity as “Seven Sisters” wraps its tendrils around you. A moment of bliss is felt before you’re tossed into another confusing place and time: “Murasaki” is sung in English and Japanese, reflecting the work of the song’s inspiration, Murasaki Shikibu, who combined Chinese histories, narrative poetry and contemporary Japanese prose in works such as The Tale of Genji, perhaps the first novel, the first modern novel, or the first great novel. Perhaps all of the above. According to eleventh century court custom, dialogue is delivered in the form of poetry, sometimes by modifying famous works, often with barely disguised subtexts.
Semiotics is defined as “the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication”. Mythologies seems bent on testing the fundamental importance of both meaning and communication by offering as few clear signals as possible. Nothing is certain, especially intention. The influence of Cheatahs’ “gallery-based improvisational noise shows” is revealed in the way Mythologies gathers its pieces together without specific direction and then looks upon the assembly and suggests emergent meaning.
That’s not to say there aren’t obvious tunes and straightforward belters anywhere in Mythologies. “Channel View” wanders off towards brilliantly catchy college rock, “Freak Waves” hammers riff after riff with wild abandon, “Seven Sisters” is a sonic sundae, and “Mysteci” is the perfect wind-down your brain needs after an album’s worth of chaotic uncertainty.
And after the wind-down, of course, there’s more: as “Reverie Bravo” breaks briefly into drone-backed chant there’s time enough for one more celestial observation:
It will reach the apogee then it’s over
Whenever, or wherever that may be, who can say?