Here are two albums I've been listening to recently: Under the Milkyway...Who Cares? by Seasurfer, and everything is alive by Slowdive. (I'm following the typography used by both bands.) The first can fairly be classified as "shoegaze;" one recognizes the basic sound immediately. I think of the other as "not-shoegaze" because Slowdive helped to define the style, and is always one of the first names mentioned when it's discussed, but this album really doesn't fit the mold.
Slowdive existed for roughly five years in the early 1990s, then broke up, with three of its four members carrying on as a mostly-acoustic band called Mojave 3. Then Slowdive reformed around 2015 and in 2017 put out a new self-titled album, which is very much in their old style and is one of those fairly rare comebacks which fans generally consider as good as the band's earlier work.
All of which is to say that I expected this new release to continue in that vein.
Well, I was wrong. The first song, "shanty," opens with a synthesizer loop which made me think I was listening to Tangerine Dream, but then moves into something closer to the old sound. The next song, "prayer remembered," is almost ambient; there may or may not be a faint vocal mist in there somewhere. I thought of instrumental post-rock groups like Hammock and Explosions In the Sky. "alife" comes closer to a typical shoegaze sound than most of the album, and it's excellent. "andalucia plays" sounds more like Mojave 3 than Slowdive. And so on. Actually the whole notion of "typical Slowdive" was exploded by Pygmalion, the last album of the band's initial incarnation, so the variety here is not a new thing for them.
Though very varied in texture from one song to the next, the album remains fairly subdued throughout; not much jumps out at you as being brilliant. I was a bit disappointed in it on first listen, but it's continued to grow on me. Set aside categories and expectations: it's subtle, evocative music with a quiet emotional touch, well and carefully produced with a lot of interesting sonic detail. I remain disappointed only with the closing track, "the slab," which is to my taste monotonous without compensatory beauty.
This is possibly the closest track to what one might expect of the band. You might want to look away from the video if you're bothered, as I am, by spacey visual patterns.
Under the Milkyway opens with a blast of noisy guitars and drums which more than justifies the oft-noted commonality between some shoegaze and some metal. That leads into "It's Too Late," which will do as well as any as a sample track--unlike the Slowdive album, this one is fairly consistent in basic sound.
It's a curiously habit-forming album. I've listened to it at least five times over the past couple of months, which is unusual for me. And I haven't tired of it; I just keep liking it more. Definitely recommended to anyone who likes the basic sound.
(p.s. Thanks, Rob)