From reunited bands delivering the best work of their career to newer acts bending shoegaze into compelling new genres, 2023 has been a strong year for shoegaze. Here are the 10 best shoegaze albums of 2023 for you to check out.
Of all the musical surprises of the last few years, the return of rock as a vital force has got to be one of the most surprising. Amazingly, guitar-based bands are outpacing electronic acts and even the seemingly-untouchable pop acts that have dominated playlists, airwaves and conversations for almost a decade. Newer and established acts are pouring out of the woodworks to prove their still passion, imagination, and creativity to be found in the six strings. There have been some incredible shoegaze albums in 2023 as a result of their re-appreciation.
Shoegaze faces some of the same dilemmas as other genres that have resurfaced in the 21st-Century, some of which have impacted our choices for the top 10 shoegaze albums of 2023. Should the best shoegaze albums of 2023 simply recreate the sound of the first wave of shoegaze from the late ’80s and early ’90s? Or should we follow market logic and prioritize innovation over all things? Or perhaps we should simply bow to the dictates of poptimism and report on what everyone else is listening to.
Each of these approaches, by themselves, seemed unsatisfactory, so we went with a hybrid of all three instead. Many of these 2023 shoegaze records have generated extensive commentary, sometimes quite heated and frequently divisive. Some of these records, like our choice for the best shoegaze album of 2023, Drop Nineteen’s Hard Light, are the definition of love it or hate it. Some feel that shoegaze taking on slick TikTok pop gloss is an affront to Kevin Shields. Others feel that those simply striving to recreate the Class of ’91 are a total bore. We disagree with both.
Without further ado, here are the 10 Best Shoegaze Albums of 2023.
The 10 Best Shoegaze Albums of 2023
10. Vyva Melinkolya – Unbecoming
It is fitting that Louisville, KY’s Viva Melinkolya collaborated with Midwife on this year’s also-excellent Orbweaving, as there’s a similarly thick, cloudy, reverb-riddled aesthetic between the two. Melinkolya brings a unique slowcore aesthetic to her fuzzy, dreamy shoegaze, though, with the stately grandeur of Codeine’s Frigid Stars. Ethereal does not mean weak in the case of Unbecoming, though, as Vyva Melinkolya occasionally erupts into steely, castiron post-hardcore beats and howling guitars. Unbecoming is a gorgeous record, full of longing and anger and wistful dreaming.
9. Darksoft – Grayscale
It’s been a strong year for Darksoft, who released not one but two addictive volumes of dream pop-infused shoegaze. Ostensibly an examination of the increasingly bland, homogenous world we’re living in, first with Beigeification and again here with Grayscale, stepping into Darksoft’s world is a bit like Dorothy Gale’s first glimpse of Oz. Full of chiming guitars, dayglo synths and earworm melodies, Darksoft reveal what a potent combo dream pop and shoegaze can be. You won’t be able to stop listening.
8. We Are Parasols – Body Horror
Portland’s We Are Parasols deliver their best album so far with Body Horror, arcwelding industrial beats and gossamer guitars with an updated tapestry of pop & r&b vocals from D Wood, revealing a brand new strength and confidence. On their first record, 2017’s Inertia, Wood’s vocals peeked out from behind a glittering bead curtain of digital noise. With Body Horror, We Are Parasols are even more striking and engaging minus the distortion, as Wood speaks candidly about self-hatred, shame, trauma and desire along with bigger ideas like politics and economics. We Are Parasols prove that style and substance need not be mutually exclusive.
7. 파란노을 [Parannoul] – After the Magic
Shoegaze gets EPIC in the hands of Seoul’s Parannoul, lacing their gauzy guitars with big string arrangements and pounding, thrashing drums, similar to bands like MONO or Boris, with just a dash of Midwestern Emo to help keep the songwriting sharp. Equal parts pretty and forceful, After the Magic‘s a treat for those who like their shoegaze forceful and bold.
6. Jane Remover – Census Designated
Trans shoegaze artist Jane Remover follows up her critically lauded if divisive Frailty with an even more ambitious, equally divisive record. Census Designated is essentially Ethel Cain with walls of thick, riotous noisy guitars, like Nothing delivering an alternate soundtrack for Bones & All. It’s even got a similar style of glossy indie pop vocals. Yes, the pop stylings somewhat detract from the rootedness Jane Remover’s going for on Census Designated. Yes, it might be somewhat overstuffed, both sonically and thematically. Regardless, you can’t deny Census Designated generated real conversations, real connections, real opinions. It’s also hard to deny that Census Designated sounds bloody fantastic, even if slick, sleek production isn’t normally your thing. A bold step from a rising talent.
5. yeule – Softscars
LA’s yeule updates traditional shoegaze for a Gen Z crowd, with some Olivia Rodrigo/Tate McRae vocals and some glitched out, stuttering post-internet digital collage along with some thick 90s shoegaze/alt-rock textures. Most importantly, Softscars has songs. Yeule avoids the genre’s tendency to meander, replacing pointless pontificating with sharp, bright melodies, strong hooks and catchy choruses. Yeule sounds just as tasty on acoustic guitar or piano as layered with thick sheets of sound – one of the truest tests of the genre. Shoegaze is clearly alive and well in the hands of the younger generations.
4. M83 – Fantasy
On Fantasy, M83 sandblast away some of the smooth cinematic sheen of the work that made them famous for something a wee bit more personal and heartfelt. It’s still as slick and capitol-E Epic as you could hope for from millennial shoegaze, though, with its soaring synths and ponderous beats. M83 still know how to craft a compelling, immersive daydream, all these years later.
3. Blonde Redhead – Sit Down For Dinner
Here’s another band just doing their thing and doing it exceedingly well. On Sit Down For Dinner, Blonde Redhead find that uneasy balance between delivering more of the same vs. breaking new ground and pushing boundaries. Another band returning from a long hiatus, the near-decade off has done Blonde Redhead good. They sound much more themselves, more relaxed and confident while still delivering results as stylish and polished of their iconic foundational work. With Sit Down for Dinner, Blonde Redhead are back… and they’re better than ever!
2. Slowdive – everything is alive
Less of a re-invention of the wheel, everything is alive is more like everything you could want from a Slowdive record in one place. That’s not to say it’s a simple re-tread. The guitars sound thicker and more ferocious, crackling with electricity and bristling with surface tension. They break some new ground, too, dragging in some kosmische modular synths to sound like an especially dreamy German psychedelic record. Everything is alive would belong among the best shoegaze albums for “alife” alone, a drifty shoegaze take on “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” Taken together with 2017’s Slowdive, Slowdive 2.0 are proving to be even more capable and influential than their first go-round.
1. Drop Nineteens – Hard Light
It’s hard to pick the best shoegaze album of 2023. It’s always going to be subjective, for one thing. For another, do you reward albums that adhere to established genre tropes? Or do you give it up for those bending and twisting shoegaze sounds into new genres and permutations?
Whichever approach you prefer, it’s hard not to applaud a band reuniting to deliver their best work 30 years into their career. On Hard Light, the Drop Nineteens sound fresh, energized, immediate yet still gentle and atmospheric as you could want from a shoegaze album. Hard Light is no nostalgia act – it’s a band at the peak of their powers delivering the album of their career.
We’ve put together all 10 of the best shoegaze albums of 2023 into one handy playlist, as well, in case you want to check some of them out or simply get lost in the sounds for hours on end.
What have been some of your favorite shoegaze albums of 2023? Anything especially striking your fancy? Leave us a comment and let us know!