Few other genres succeed in their juxtaposition of beauty and harshness like shoegaze does. It’s a style rooted in dynamism, heavy emotions and even heavier guitars. In such dark times as these, shoegaze is the perfect refuge—depending on your mood, you can choose to channel a track’s profound, chaotic glory or its palpable brooding. These past several years have been fruitful for the genre, so rather than recognize the classic shoegaze bands that are still around, we want to highlight some of our favorite bands that are still in their first iteration. Spanning veterans like DIIV or Nothing and up-and-comers like Milly or Temple of Angels, we present to you 20 of our current favorite shoegaze (or shoegaze-adjacent) bands, listed in alphabetical order.
Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.
Zachary Cole Smith—the central voice behind DIIV—has long been on the inside of addiction. After the group released their sophomore album, Is the Is Are, Cole entered a long-haul inpatient treatment for heroin addiction, a struggle that became public in 2013 when he and his then-girlfriend Sky Ferreira were busted for possession. Cole’s experiences in rehab became the inspiration for the group’s latest record, Deceiver, and while the album displays the group’s darkest sound yet, it also ends up being their most earnest. The wider, dynamic sound texture across Deceiver is one of the most apparent improvements from past records with a clear, crisp approach that avoids sterility. The sound matches the scope of blackgaze contemporaries like Deafheaven—who DIIV have toured with—without crossing the threshold into metal. Nonetheless, the lush, sometimes crushing instrumentation speaks to the daunting task Cole has undergone to restore himself. —Hayden Goodridge
Gnoomes may lurk in dark electronic shadows, but their shoegaze guitar chops shouldn’t be questioned. The Russian quartet’s most recent album, MU!, merges the experimental sides of Stereolab, Wand and Neu! with furiously gyrating guitars. The LP shifts between states of matter, and getting sucked into their dynamic compositions is easy. “Glasgow Coma State” is positively gleaming and vigorous while “Ursa Major” is wispy and discombobulating. Their color schemes change too—songs like “Progulka” are filled with bright hues, while others like “Sword in the Stone” and “Irma” have a distinctly monochrome smog. Like many albums of heady hypnotics, you know the finale is going to melt your psyche, and the two-track curtain close (“How Do You” and “Feel Now”) is a shoegaze-tinted psych-pop hurrah for the ages. MU! is so memorable because it brushes the same pleasure centers as the genre’s titans without retracing the steps of their predecessors or peers. With MU!, they’ve cleared a space for themselves in electro-shoegaze heaven. —Lizzie Manno
Michigan trio Greet Death put out one of the best guitar records of 2019, and if you’re a fan of overdrive, you should run—not walk—to the nearest record store to buy it. With thick sheets of punky post-rock and vocals that border on folk and emo, their second album New Hell is hard to pin down—it’s more raucous than your average emo record, but more painfully heartfelt than your average post-rock record. Folding in slowcore and indie rock for good measure, their blustery soundscapes, intricate distortion and big heart make New Hell one of the best hidden gems of 2019. With lyrics of boredom, emptiness and struggles for self-love, Greet Death make their journey through personal hell sound like a majestic, cathartic saga. Self-inquiry has rarely sounded this powerful. —Lizzie Manno
Holy Fawn are happy being slippery shapeshifters. Whether it’s heady shoegaze, blistering black metal or lush post-rock, this Arizona-based group are no strangers to a wide spectrum of sounds and emotions. Their 2020 EP and most recent release The Black Moon contains three tracks of dense elemental beauty. It’s a dewy, darkly enchanting listen with rich production that elevates these songs into something truly majestic. —Lizzie Manno
On their second album and first for Run For Cover Records, Horse Jumper of Love perfect their driving slowcore while discarding some of the moping that characterized their self-titled debut. This time around, the Boston trio’s desolation is mostly confined to the dejected guitars, which exude as much angst as a pop-punk chord progression, as much muscle as a metal riff and as much sonic weight as a shoegaze solo. Frontman Dimitri Giannopoulos doesn’t just make passing, strange moments of insignificance feel like the center of the universe, but when his specificity connects with you, you’ll feel an intersection of happiness and sadness that’s hard to articulate: “Passenger seat floors a graveyard for / Puddle walkers soaked and ruined shoes.” The unhurried sonics of So Divine may not be a great record to put on when you’ve been blessed with the aux cord at a party, but it is the perfect record to listen to on headphones when you’re laying in bed at night, lonely and staring at the ceiling, trying to decide what shade of white said ceiling is. —Lizzie Manno
Like their band name might suggest, Lightning Bug make soothing music rooted in the elements. This recording project of Audrey Kang and friends Kevin Copeland and Logan Miley began in 2015 with their debut album Floaters, and they reemerged last year with their second album October Song following a several-year hiatus. Their sound is diverse, ranging from lo-fi and electro-pop to folk and shoegaze, but there’s always a contemplative, compassionate glow. Kang’s cleansing voice and their generous appreciation for details are a godsend. —Lizzie Manno
Denver multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnston (also of Sister Grotto) this month shared her latest drone release Forever, which also serves as her debut for San Francisco experimental label The Flenser (Have a Nice Life, Deafheaven). Her self-described “heaven metal” is crushingly beautiful—it mixes slowcore, drone-pop and ambient music, and despite its dark sonic shades, it’s a hopeful album, especially in its context: The album was made while she was grieving the death of her friend and artistic inspiration, Colin Ward, and it’s now dedicated to his memory. One line from “Anyone Can Play Guitar,” a highlight from this six-track release, is particularly moving as Johnston sings wistfully over feedback-drenched guitars: “Anyone can fall in love / Anyone can play guitar / Anyone can say goodbye.” —Lizzie Manno
Connecticut-via-Los Angeles band Milly is the lo-fi slowcore project of Brendan Dyer, and they recently dropped their debut EP on cassette, Our First Four Songs, via Dangerbird Records. The EP is a collection of three singles plus a previously unreleased eponymous track, and it’s a slow-drip of steamy guitars, casual yet heartfelt vocals and ephemeral, abstract love songs. “Milly” and “Talking Secret” lean into warped guitar ferocity while “People Are Forever” and “Crazy Horse” (whose video was premiered by Paste) embrace crawling tempos and dazed, cinematic lo-fi. Milly stopped by Atlanta’s Paste Studio to perform songs from the EP, and their warm-hearted, syrupy rock songs make them a band to watch in 2020. —Lizzie Manno
This project of Kristina Esfandiari (Whirr, King Woman) finds her at her most vulnerable and emotional. Oscillating between shoegaze and dream pop, her music dwells in a soft, meditative space that reverberates with thoughtfulness. Every song, though, is tinged with darkness, especially on the edgy 2018 release Loverboy / Dog Days. —Danielle Chelosky
Narrow Head’s brand of shoegaze is groovy yet dark. Lyrically, this Texas band’s music lives in a world of loss and self-destruction, and their combination of nu-metal and ’90s grunge makes for pleasurable sonic immersion. Their 2016 debut is a beautiful canvas of complex and adrenaline-fueled shoegaze. —Danielle Chelosky
Philadelphia’s Nothing have been at it for years, churning out some of the best albums and even the best b-sides. With every record, the band proves themselves, solidifying their dark, heavy shoegaze that reckons with addiction, pain and love. There isn’t a band quite like them. —Danielle Chelosky
Ovlov is one of the most idiosyncratic DIY crews around—take, for example, their amusing alligator motif. 2018’s TRU showcased the band’s whirling, powerful atmospheres, especially with the nostalgic opening track “Baby Alligator” and poignant grand finale “Grab It From the Garden.” —Danielle Chelosky
Peel Dream Magazine, the project of NYC musician Joe Stevens, began in 2018 with the release of their debut album Modern Meta Physic, 13 pacifying shoegaze tracks marked by background hisses and hushed vocals. The band’s 2020 follow-up Agitprop Alterna is much broader, thanks in part to the live members that appear here like vocalists Jo-Anne Hyun and Isabella Mingione and drummer Brian Alvarez, and also due to its emphasis on a more dynamic sound. It’s still minimal like its predecessor, but the droning is bolder, the pop melodies reach a higher peak and the avant-garde and electro-pop elements are more pronounced. It’s a caressing record with satisfying moments that are felt long after they pass—take for instance the innocent, fluttering keys that close “Brief Inner Mission,” which transition into the wonderfully filtered vocals and blown-out guitars of “NYC Illuminati.” Agitprop Alterna is a loungey, droning, space-age odyssey that might help even the most anxious among us escape for a bit. —Lizzie Manno
Technically, Sasami Ashworth (best known by just her all-caps first name) is a new artist, but she’s actually been doing this for years. Her self-titled debut album arrived in March, but long before that, she spent three years playing synth in Cherry Glazerr, arranged music for Curtis Harding, Wild Nothing and Vagabon and opened shows for Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy and Mitski. It’s no surprise, then, that SASAMI’s grey-hued, grunge- and shoegaze-indebted songs tackle tumultuous relationships and friendships with the tact and poise of a longtime solo performer. The LP comprises vast, acerbic voids that fashion the bile of Ashworth’s personal turbulence into a balm for listeners experiencing similar woes. It’s a trick that only somebody who’s already put in her 10,000 hours could pull off so well, or maybe it’s just in her blood. —Max Freedman
Slow Crush’s song titles are indicative of their sonic landscape—like with “Drift” and “Glow.” Atmosphere is at the forefront of their music—it’s noisy and chaotic but also cohesive and beautiful. Their songs are carefully crafted and extravagant. —Danielle Chelosky
The Spirit of the Beehive are one of Philadelphia’s best kept secrets. The quintet’s latest full-length, 2018’s Hypnic Jerks, melds psych-pop, punk, noise and drone, and while their studio recordings curate pacifying worlds of shadows and shimmers, their live shows are surprisingly vigorous. It’s this mix of escapism and confrontation that makes them impossible to ignore. Their songs provoke stark reactions, and they’re the perfect antidote to mindlessly dreamy music and unremarkable bedroom pop. —Lizzie Manno
Tanukichan, the project of Oakland musician Hannah van Loon, released her debut album Sundays back in 2018, and it remains one of my favorite shoegaze albums of the past decade. Its softer moments are painfully sad, and its heavier moments are headbang-worthy. It’s an enveloping and fuzzed-out listen with her angelic, filtered voice gracefully underpinning each track. Though its references to ’90s groups like Lush and Slowdive are clear, the way it experiments with pace and electronic instrumentation gives it a fresh glow. —Lizzie Manno
Austin, Texas five-piece Temple of Angels may only have a pair of EPs and singles to their name, but their gothic dream pop is far too gorgeous to overlook. Their specialty is a gothic blend of dream pop, shoegaze and post-rock with lead singer Bre Morell’s otherworldly yearning capable of stopping you dead in your tracks. They seamlessly pivot between metallic doom and wispy alternative pop, and this duality of sinister and nymph-like is mesmerizing. —Lizzie Manno
Taking influence from My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr., Weed makes clamorous, detached shoegaze that moves as fast as it wants. Their sound is staticky, and the vocals sound more like echoes—like they’re playing a show at the local DIY venue and you can hear from a few blocks over. —Danielle Chelosky
In a stark contrast to most shoegaze groups, Daniel Monkman’s self-described “moccasin-gaze,” which he records under the name Zoon, is informed by his First Nations heritage. Handrums, shakers and droning chants coalesce on “Was & Always Will Be,” a track from his recent LP Bleached Wavves, resulting in a swirl of reflective sounds and emotions. These are sounds from the ether and the undertow—far away from our immediate reality, but with an ethos that couldn’t be closer to it. The chaotic hisses of “Landscapes” are the sound of being pulled in many directions simultaneously, and the beachy dissonance of the title track is the sound of struggle and rebirth. Shoegaze fans will appreciate the uncanny guitar nods to Kevin Shields, but Monkman’s translation of delicate personal tribulations into deeply spiritual bluster is uniquely his own. —Lizzie Manno
Listen to the full playlist on Spotify right here.