Flipping through Spotify's 'Shoegaze Now' playlist: the good, the mid, and the terrible

Like it or not, this Spotify playlist is one of the main drivers of shoegaze's current moment. I spent an afternoon listening to its contents and reacting to what I heard.

Flipping through Spotify's 'Shoegaze Now' playlist: the good, the mid, and the terrible

Outside of TikTok, forums like r/shoegaze, and writers like myself who cover shoegaze, one of the main drivers of genre's current moment is Spotify. Like it or not, so many people are discovering the genre via the streaming giant's algorithm and through their editorial playlists like "Shoegaze Now," which boasts 162k subscribers and essentially serves as the app's homepage for shoegaze music.

Unlike so many of Spotify's computer-generated playlists, the 94 songs currently sitting in "Shoegaze Now" were placed there by actual human beings, and the playlist is updated weekly with whatever its editors think its listeners will enjoy. Usually, that means whatever new and old tracks happen to be trending on TikTok, or new singles by hot rising artists — especially artists like flyingfish, Glixen, and Wisp, whose music has received an undeniable boost from being "playlisted" in Shoegaze Now. I would bet money that any song that gets dropped in there, regardless of how popular it was beforehand, gets a career-changing amount of streams just by existing in that playlist. Maybe you're only getting paid $9.55 for those 30k streams, but you have 29k more streams than you did before, for whatever that's worth.

All my moral objections to Spotify's business practices aside, I don't really have any moral or artistic objections to the existence of something like Shoegaze Now. I think playlists like that are useful for people who aren't as nerdily obsessed with crate-digging through the genre as many of us are, and I myself have found plenty of interesting songs and artists by skipping around the playlist when I'm in a curious mood.

Over the weekend, I decided to flip through about 40 songs in the playlist in an exercise to survey the land of internet shoegaze, and see what I make of what Spotify's editors have decided is worth including. About half of the playlist consists of older shoegaze tracks, from early-Nineties classics to 2010s fare, and the other half is mostly stuff that was released over the last couple years. I spent a couple hours listening and scribbled down some kneejerk thoughts to whichever tracks I felt like I had a strong reaction to, positively or negatively.

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Wisp - "Pandora"

I already wrote about Wisp's new Pandora EP a couple weeks back, and my thoughts haven't changed since then. I think she's got a lot of potential but hasn't met it yet on her output thus far. I'm not mad when one of her songs comes on, but it's not something I'm reaching for either. I remain Wisp-neutral at the moment.

Nothing - "A.C.D."

One of the best songs on Tired of Tomorrow. Hear the way the drums hit on this recording? How they sound like thunder cracks that jolt you out of bed at 2 a.m.? Hear the dark chocolatey richness of the guitar tones? Hear how the clarity in Domenic Palermo's voice sounds like it could be yanked away and pulled under the instrumentation at any moment like a buoy out at sea? Hear the convincing ache and wincing regret in the lyric, "I always knew I'd eventually hurt you"? I think most of ya'll nu-gaze makers need to listen a little closer.

Overhang - "Wither"

Listens to Whirr once shoegaze effects + mathy emo licks + bad production + directionless song structure + predictable heavy parts. Blegh.

Crate - "Julia"

Absolutely fucking awesome trip-hoppy shoegaze. Think Whirlpool-era Chapterhouse but with guitarwork that's more indebted to Glider and Tremolo-era MBV. This is this band's only song and they need to make more immediately. Also, amazing art and band logo. C'mon, give us some more.

Salt+ - "Not It"

The title says it all. This is not it. Atrociously redundant nu-gaze that falls over all of the lazy tropes that're making longtime 'gaze fans feel exhausted by this era. Cheap sounding drums. Songwriting that's all style no substance. Worthless vocals. Inconclusive ending to the song. No interesting dynamics. Guitars sound pretty good but that ain't enough, everyone's guitars sound pretty good these days. So bored by this kind of thing right now unless it's done exceptionally well.

Future Magics - "High With You"

OK, this is everything Salt+ are trying yet failing to achieve. There's a riff in this song that sounds straight-up Korn. Not even Deftones, just like straight Munky from Korn style riff. But somehow it doesn't sound super cheesy cause this artist knows how to deliver huge swaths of trad-gaze fuzz, and the production rules. I like the rubbery bassline and the pitched-up vocals, the twinkling licks during the verses and the sparkling synth dust that occasionally peaks through. It feels lived-in and colorful, not drab and plasticky like so much of the mindlessly redundant grunge-gaze that's taking off right now. I like the unpredictably jerky rhythms. The songwriting is actually good! The chorus is hummable! This rules.

Glixen - "Lust"

A lot of people hate on Glixen because A) misogyny, since they're a stylish femme-fronted band who care about their image, and for some reason that's threatening to ugly-ass bro-gazers. And B) they're popular. Hating on a band because they're popular can be a warranted form of hatred, but not for Glixen. I love what this band are doing. I think they've got the "it" factor.

The riff in this song is a little too Deftonesy for my liking, whereas their previous stuff is more MBV. But that bass tone is fucking awesome, and I love the way the singer burrows her vocals into the guitars while still being able to produce a tuneful melody. They're not reinventing the wheel songwriting-wise but texturally and emotionally I think they're several cuts above most other bands doing this kind of thing right now (which is most shoegaze bands their age). The haters are just jealous.

Photographic Memory, flyingfish - "colonthree"

Photographic Memory is the long-running project of producer-guitarist Max Epstein, who's played in Militarie Gun, produced for HEALTH and Cold War Kids, and, according to his Instagram, currently plays guitar in Jane Remover, quannnic, and Wisp's live bands — making him a central figure in the TikTok-era 'gaze landscape. I need to get better acquainted with his work because I think this song with flyingfish — the 16-year-old kingpin of Duster-gaze — is pretty cool. Vocally, it's got the digicore-inflected wails of quannnic and Jane Remover, but the propulsive swing of its rhythm offers a breath of fresh air among the downward-looking plods that saturate this playlist. It's not amazing but I'm intrigued.

Guilt - "Chapterhouse"

Good goddddd what a song!!!!

Claire Rousay - "lover's spit plays in the background"

I mean...it's like....literally not a shoegaze song? Like, at all? At all?? But it's cool. I like Claire Rousay. But uh. No. This is not a shoegaze song. There need to be some parameters here lol

Blossom - "Warm Stay"

Hey, remember when I said that nu-gazers need to pay better attention to what Nothing are doing on songs like "A.C.D."? Yeah, I didn't mean plagiarism. This type of behavior could get one expelled from an esteemed university. Watch yourself!

headspin - "Side Eyes"

Hm, this is better than I thought it would be after hearing the first few notes. Obvious who their influences are, but it's just noisy and brittle and atmospheric enough to catch me in a way so many songs one millimeter to the left or right of this don't. Forgettable but good.

Idaho - "On Fire"

Slowcore isn't shoegaze. It's just not.

Old Coke - "Coffee Eyes"

Jesus christ there's sooooo much of this type of shit out here right now! Sooooo much bad, derivative, painfully uninteresting grunge-gaze that I just don't give a rat's fucking ass about lmao. Half of this playlist sounds like this. Seventy five percent of the shoegaze songs uploaded to Spotify over the last three years sound like this. Enough! Enough!!!! It's boooooring!!! Aren't you bored by this shit yet? I certainly am.

Joyer - "Softer Skin"

I thought this band's older stuff was mid but this is good. This is at least different. The ear-bleeding noise. The odd time signature and jazzy rhythms. Not a fan of the Horse Jumper of Love slowcore parts. But I like the skronkiness of it all and feel like if this band knows what they're doing then this type of thing will go over well live.

Novulent - "Scars"

I was somewhat intrigued by Novulent's "savior" when it started picking up on TikTok late last year, but I think this is a much better song. I think there's still a lot of land to explore in the spaces between post-digicore stuff and nu-gaze, and I think Novulent makes a good case here that wounded emo-rap vocals, chittering digi-drums, and tattered, rain-soaked shoegaze riffs can mix really well. This song's got real pathos to it and Novulent's not just tracing the same vocal patterns that so many of his contemporaries are. Dig this.

dottie - "sunspot"

This is like if Slowdive's early Nineties material had the extremist reverb sensibilities of Lovesliescrushing. It's almost ridiculous how much reverb is caked onto both the vocals and the guitars, but it's overdone in an entertaining way. It just sounds good to hear a shoegaze song without a grungey power chord in it after downing so much of that throughout the rest of this playlist.

Junodream - "The Oranges"

The vast majority of good shoegaze from the last 10 years has been driven by Americanized iterations of the genre, so it actually sounds really refreshing to hear something as unabashedly U.K. sounding as this. This is basically like Radiohead or U2 or even, like, Being Funny in a Foreign Language-era 1975 crossed with shoegaze. It's regal and it's ambitious and it's heavy-handed and resplendent in a way that isn't common in this period of bedroom-made shoegaze. It's a little over the top at points. The "breathe-breathe-breathe-breathe/relax-relax-relax-relax" refrain is a bit too precious for me to not snicker a little bit. But it's pretty! It's huge! It's different! Let's get some more of that goin' on, peeps.