Counterintuitively, some artists thrive best by making us uncomfortable. I’ve written about how musical silence can be jarring, especially in contexts like film scores when we expect noise. But what about when musicians reverse our expectations for an entire genre of music?
Anilore, a trio from New York, is far from your typical rock band – if they can be called one at all. They practice one of the strangest subgenres out there, itself a subcategory of alternative rock. Shoegaze rose to popularity in the late 80s and early 90s in the UK. Originally, the press devised the term “shoegazing” to make fun of the way that these bands behaved on stage. Rather than the stereotypical loud, brash persona associated with rock-‘n’-roll, they had an introspective, detached, almost shy presence. This, combined with their extensive use of foot pedals to create distorted sounds, led to the stereotype of the bands constantly looking down at their shoes.
For a point of reference, here’s Anilore performing the song “Nine” off their latest album, Dead Love’s Grave.
Sometimes overlapping with the related genre of dream pop, shoegaze lies somewhere between ambient atmospheric music, noise rock, post rock, and pop music. Anilore and bands like them rely on blurry, unclear vocals that feel deliberately hard to understand. Albums revolve around somber, sometimes melancholy, existential themes – vague, complex, or unusual titles are common in the naming of bands, their songs, and their albums.
Since the beginnings of shoegaze, the general trend seems to have been a movement away from rock elements, exchanging them for more atmospheric or ambient sounds. Eighteen years ago, Anilore released Still Awake, which was much more driven by guitar and percussion in a way similar to generic alt rock. In the intervening years, however, shoegaze has evolved to allow its sounds to become more aligned with the overall themes and emotions that it seeks to express. Instead of being alt rock with a certain mood, the genre has become more definitely outlined as its own niche for dreamlike, imaginative, low-key music.
Although Anilore’s music does not necessarily comfortably fit into our tastes or expectations, part of their appeal may come precisely from that dissonance. Much like the way great novels challenge societal norms and morals, groups like Anilore have a unique opportunity to confront us with emotional experiences and musical sensations we would otherwise not come across – or particularly desire. But if we are willing to engage with them, even if we don’t fully understand or like what we hear, we have the benefit of appreciating the unexpected. And it’s in those encounters that inspiration is able to break through, allowing unfamiliar creative energies to captivate us. Like a road not often travelled, we don’t know what we’re missing unless we wander a little further outside our usual boundaries.