We live in an age of digital intimacy and real isolation

By Jack Dolan

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It shouldn’t come as news to anyone that the sister genres of shoegaze and dreampop, once relegated to the alternative fringes of the late ’80s and early ’90s British music scene, are making a remarkable comeback, finding new, worldwide relevance in an era furtively yearning for the sonic waves of fantasy, gushing love, and lyrical escapism typically characteristic of the genres. Of course, this should also come as no surprise to any current music aficionado, as this newer incantation of the movement, stylised by its emotive soundscapes, wistful lyrics, and progressively immersive atmospheres, offers a sonic and lyrical hug from the tumult of the seemingly increasing solitary atmospheres inherent to contemporary living.

“Shoegaze”, with its name deriving rather sardonically from musicians’ tendency to gaze at their shoes – or more accurately, their growing collection of effects pedals – while performing, is known for its dense layers of sound, feedback, and washes of long-decaying digital reverbs. Pioneering this sound, bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Ride, with their seminal albums ‘Loveless’, ‘Nowhere’, and ‘Souvlaki’ respectively, created lush, mesmeric worlds in which listeners could lose themselves in the washes of mellifluously cacophonic noise emanating from the presumably pilsner-soaked Marshall cabinets and a wealth of BOSS overdrives (to be aptly succinct in describing the common rigs on display).

Dreampop, while closely related and often overlapping with shoegaze, brings a lighter, more ethereal texture to the forefront, with artists like Cocteau Twins and Beach House leading the charge with their dreamy vocals and shimmering guitar work. In the modern day, however, the stylistic differences between the two are deemed mostly negligible. Once drolly written off as “the scene that celebrates itself” by the British music press, the recent splicing of the genres has by now undoubtedly cemented its footing on the stage of global relevance with such lauded contemporary bands as Deerhunter, Nothing, and Whirr.

As the lines between shoegaze and dreampop converge, creating a hypnotic spectrum of sound, artists are finding new ways to explore and redefine these genres for the contemporary listener. Dead Leaf Echo, a Brooklyn-based trio that proudly and intricately weaves the ethereal strands of distortion and reverb into a lush stream of melodic hymns, have etched a distinct mark on the very-much alive and-now-finally revered ‘gazing landscape. Their vivant sonic endeavours, distinguished by a profound exploration of texture and reverb-drenched moods, culminate magnificently in their full-length album “The Mercy of Women”. This modern, story-laden exemplar is a testament to the band’s mastery of creating immersive auditory experiences at a highly accessible (and dare I say radio-friendly) level, blending the gossamer threads of emotional, dreamlike sound with the tangible, lyrical intensity of man’s inner yearning. One is strongly reminded of a cordial blend between the Valentines and often historically overlooked hard-gaze outfit, Catherine Wheel, circa 1992.

“The Mercy of Women”, however, stands as a monument to the band’s ability to navigate the delicate balance between emotionally charged battlefields condensed by their gravitational pull of melodic structure. Within its confines, tracks like “Call”, “Dream Orphans”, and “Mercy” serve as the album’s erect pillars that uphold the intricate architecture of Dead Leaf Echo’s musical vision.

“Call” emerges from the mist with an introspective allure. Its opening chords are a gentle summoning into the band’s dreamlike world. The track is a catchy weaving in the subtle interplay between light and shadow, where reverb-soaked and richly modulated guitars and longing vocals coalesce into a sonic mirage of hope and wistful introspection.


I will be far away

with this form placed over function

it’s the only way I’ll get back to you

It’s a call to the listener’s deeper consciousness, inviting them into a reflective voyage through their tidy yet deeply layered sound by the simple yet striking evocations of romance and reflection.

“Succumb”, by contrast, encapsulates the quintessence of dreampop melancholia. Its title alone conjures images of lost melodies and forgotten harmonies, drifting in the naturalistic ethers of continuous becoming. The song itself unfolds like a delicate dream, with layers of gauzy guitars and ethereal vocals that weave a fabric of sound both comforting and perhaps even disquieting.

I don’t know….

where you’ll go

All I know is the mercy you’ve shown

Always strong never callous never cold

The vocals float, ghost-like, above the instrumentation, guiding the listener through a maze-like whirlwind of sonic beauty tinged with the album’s core sense of longing to connect to the intrinsic, empathic element renowned of the fairer sex.

“Dream Orphans”, arguably the album’s most accessible track, is perhaps the most poignant embodiment of Dead Leaf Echo’s lyrical artistry. It is a piece that merges the abstract with the concrete, the celestial with the earthly. The track’s foundation is built upon a bedrock of lush, swirling guitars and a rhythm section that beats like the heart of the universe. Above this, the vocals rise and fall, a tidal wave of primordial emotion that sweeps over the listener, leaving a residue of catharsis in its wake.

he never finds his home

or one to call his own

forever in search of the one since birth

In “The Mercy of Women”, Dead Leaf Echo does not merely create music; they sculpt an atmosphere reflecting the deeper need for personal connectivity in an age conflicted with the dichotomy of digital intimacy and real-world isolation, thus allowing the will to romance into a realm where sound and such emotion are inextricably linked. The album is a journey through the heart of shoegaze and dreampop, a voyage that reveals the depth and breadth of the band’s sonic palette. Through tracks like “Call”, “Dream Orphans”, and “Mercy”, they invite us to explore the nuances of sound and the complexities of the human condition, wrapped in a shroud of ethereal, sonic beauty. Dead Leaf Echo’s work is a reminder that music, at its best, is a form of magic – a spell that binds the soul to the infinite possibilities of sound.

The resurgence of shoegaze and dreampop is not merely a nostalgic revival but a profound reflection of our current societal landscape, particularly the much-discussed loss of intimacy in an era dominated by digital communication. The cold, transactional nature of our online interactions has created a hunger for more profound, authentic connections, both with ourselves and with others. This longing for depth and meaning is mirrored in the sonic realms of shoegaze and dreampop, genres that are fundamentally about connection through disconnection, offering a counterpoint to the impersonal nature of modern life whilst engaging with the sanctity of Self. 

Shoegaze, in its essence, is a genre that thrives on the paradox of noise and silence, chaos and calm. Similar in spirit to the colder, more cerebral movement of sonic fiction soundscaping, the dense layers of sound and the introspective, often indiscernible lyrics create a space where the listener is invited to fill in the gaps with their own emotions and interpretations. This act of co-creation between artist and listener fosters a unique form of intimacy, one that is deeply personal yet universally shared. It’s a musical dialogue that transcends the limitations of language and the superficiality of digital communication, reaching into the deeper recesses of the human experience.

Here we find ourselves at the precipice of a profound, and perhaps even unique, philosophical dialogue. It is here, amidst the echoing layers of distortion and the cave-enveloping caress of reverb, that our listening takes a deeper turn, directing us from the realm of auditory disconnection to the introspective shores of existential reflection. As the music invites us to lose ourselves in its immersive landscapes, it simultaneously lures us towards confronting the Self, setting the stage for a soulful reckoning with the themes of absurdity and love that Albert Camus famously mused upon. Through the prism depths of Camus’ philosophy, we can convey the act of listening as an act of loving – more specially yearning – and set music’s embrace a bridge to the merciful act of unconditional love.

To tread on this reflection in a cerebral sense is to weave through the drapes of the human condition, finding solace in the threads of compassion and empathy uniquely attributed to the feminine spirit.

Chiefly known for his literary-philosophic masterwork, “The Outsider”, Albert Camus, with his stoic acceptance of the absurd, famously proclaimed life’s inherent meaninglessness, a Sisyphean ordeal devoid of cosmic purpose yet brimming with profound human significance. Herein, the desire for the merciful act of love could be viewed as emergent of an act of rebellion against the absurdity of existence, a conscious defiance that bestows upon the seemingly unforgiving terrain of perpetual conflict on earth a safe space of warmth, compassion, and tender understanding. It is, therefore, through such merciful gestures that life’s absurdity is not merely endured but transformed into a narrative of inter-connected resilience and human solidarity. Like with Dead Leaf Echo’s abovementioned album, the feminine spirit, in its perceived capacity for such profound empathy, perhaps becomes the underlying concern in Camus’ philosophy, embodying the silent receptivity that underpins man’s Sisyphean struggle against the unforgiving indifference of nature’s domain.

Thus, when viewed against the existential framework of Camus, the concept of yearning transcends its conventional understanding, becoming a philosophical cornerstone that unites the absurd with man’s innate desire to experience unconditional love. It is a testament to the enduring will of the human spirit, a reminder that within the chaos of existence and the solitude of despair, there exists a tender force capable of bestowing life with meaning and dignity. Therefore, the merciful act of unconditional love is not just an act of kindness but a profound existential statement—a declaration that even in our darkest moments, there is light to be found in the compassion we extend to one another.

Considering the interconnectedness between music and poetic existentialism, whereby despair and hope entwine romantically, the merciful act of unconditional love stands as a silent testament to the strength which can be found in vulnerability, the courage in compassion, and the wisdom in empathy. It challenges us to see beyond the loveless precipices of Camus’ absurd and the existential vertigo of nature’s growling leap to a realm in which mercy becomes the ultimate expression of human freedom and the most authentic response to the enigma of existence. Indeed, to be loveless is to live a truly absurd life.

As can be found in all the best musical outfits, the resurgence of these aesthetically and refreshingly sophomoric genres speaks volumes about the current cultural moment. In an era dominated by digital saturation and global uncertainty (to put it rather glibly for the sake of journalistic brevity), shoegaze and dreampop offer an auditory escape route. These genres, with their emphasis on guitar-led texture and atmosphere over traditional powerhouse song structures typified by the instrument, invite listeners to detach from the abstract, the logical, the Geist, and dive into the realm of feeling and of progressive landscaping, into realms of sound that speak to and consequently connect with the human body and the ever-fluxing realm of pure, emotional becoming.

Looking ahead, the resurgence of the scene that once celebrated itself stands as a testament to the enduring power of music to offer solace, understanding, and a sense of connection. In a world that often feels overwhelmingly real, these genres provide a much-needed portal to the ethereal, spaces where the imagination can roam free and the soul can find peace. It’s not just a revival; it’s a quiet revolution that speaks to the timeless human desire for beauty, escape, and the transcendent power of sound.

You can check Dead Leaf Echo’s upcoming dates here.

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