The 20 Best Shoegaze EPs of the early-’90s
The EP, short for extended play, is more than a single but less than an album. The format really came into its own in the late-'70s/early-'80s with punk, post-punk and independent labels, offering an affordable sampler for new and exciting music.
The original, early-'90s era of shoegaze took to the EP like ducks to water. Not to generalize but shoegaze bands tended to favor extended instrumental sections allowing them to bliss out on a riff, or even just a chord. A whole album of that might prove taxing for some, but with an EP, the indulgence is more digestible and the best groups' EPs offered up a "hit," a song where they really let go, and made room to experiment too. With acid house, the Manchester scene and grunge all happening at the same time, there was a lot of sonic osmosis going on.
With that in mind, here's my list of the best shoegaze EPs of the original era. A few guidelines: EPs had to come out between 1989 (when the first Lush and Ride EPs came out) and 1994 (when Britpop started to take hold), though all my picks are 1990-1993; and the EP should not exceed 20 minutes / six tracks. The perfect EP in my mind is four songs, clocking in just under 20. For the purposes of this list I also limited it to one EP per artist, however I offer an "extended listening" option for each if you want to hear more.
As for what defines "shoegaze," well that's up for debate but all these records contain some form of "hazy layers of guitars." Check out the list below and feel free to comment and tell me what I missed.
TOP 20 SHOEGAZE EPS OF THE EARLY '90S
20. Bleach - Snag (1991, Way Cool Records)
Formed by brothers Neil and Nick Singleton, Ipswich, UK's Bleach unfortunately ran out of songwriting steam before they released their first album. (Hey, it happens, just ask Elastica.) The band managed to deliver one terrific EP that showcased their moody style, with guitarist Neil providing the haze and bassist Nick providing the mood. Like a lot of shoegaze groups of this era, singer Salli Carson's ethereal vocals seemed more like an equal element of Bleached's sound, as opposed to a focal point. "Bethesda," with its tom-heavy drumming is especially good, as is "Dipping."
Extended listening: the cover art is the most distinctive thing about Bleach's 1992 album Killing Time, but it's the only one of their releases on streaming services.
19. Medicine - 5ive (1993, Creation)
Led by Brad Laner, who spent time in the '80s in L.A. cult post-punk band Savage Republic, Medicine were arguably the U.S.'s best shoegaze band, with a firm grip on melody, noise and dynamics, and they weren't afraid of sampling or dance culture. They also had rare bonafides for an American band; they were signed to Creation in the UK. (Rick Rubin's American Recordings put out their records at home.) The 5ive EP, also known as Come Here to Drink Milk, takes the tremolo-heavy title track (originally on their debut album) and pairs it with the ragged version of "Time Baby" (not the version with Liz Fraser & Robin Guthrie), searing slow jam "Lime 6," and the quasi-industrial "Wrought."
Extended listening: The Sounds of Medicine EP has the Cocteau-ized version of "Time Baby" from The Crow soundtrack, plus "stripped and reformed" versions of other songs, but the 1993 sophomore album The Buried Life is Medicine at their best.
18. The Telescopes - Flying (1991, Creation)
Having got their start in the mid-'80s, The Telescopes predate shoegaze but were part of the dark neo-psych scene that included Spacemen 3 and Loop (who they shared a split 7" with in 1988). By their fourth EP for Creation, 1990's Flying, The Telescopes had blasted off most of the white noise in favor of groovy psychedelia that put them somewhere between The Stone Roses and Ride, but frontman Stephen Lawrie was always on his own sonic plane. With layers of 12-string guitars -- acoustic and electric -- Flying's title track is one of their best pop songs, while "High on Fire" heads deep into outer space and "The Sleepwalk" showed they could confidently compete with their Creation labelmates that were getting much more ink in NME.
Extended listening: 1990's Celeste EP features an amazing 10-minute version of the title track that's worth the price of admission.
17. Blind Mr. Jones - Eyes Wide (1992, Cherry Red)
Their fondness of flute gave Blind Mr. Jones the reputation of being the shoegaze Jethro Tull, but this band from Marlow, UK were one of the more underrated groups of the era, with a distinctively British sound, a decided goth streak, and consistently memorable, melodic (New Order-esque) bass lines. There are no wind instruments on the Eyes Wide EP but it does feature Slowdive's Neil Halstead who gifts the record with some of his transcendent guitar cloud cover. All four songs are terrific. Is your favorite Ride song "Decay" from Nowhere? You should definitely investigate Blind Mr. Jones further.
Extended listening: Compilation Over My Head collects everything Blind Mr. Jones recorded, including the Crazy Jazz EP that featured Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.
16. Adorable - Sunshine Smile (1992, Creation)
While they owed more to Echo & the Bunnymen or House of Love than My Bloody Valentine or Ride, Adorable were signed to Creation Records, peppered their very catchy songs with guitar noise and got not entirely unfairly lumped in with the shoegaze scene...even if frontman Peter Fijalkowski bristled at the word in interviews. One thing's for sure: "Sunshine Smile" was a hell of an introduction that sounds like its title, a wonderful guitar-drenched pop song with a slinky slowburn intro that gives way to a massive guitar riff chorus. The two b-sides -- melancholy-drenched ballad "A to Fade In" and the Madchester-leaning "Sunburnt" -- are great, too, as is the cover art which uses imagery from The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Extended listening: The Sistine Chapel Ceiling EP takes its title track from Adorable's debut album, Against Perfection, and adds three good b-sides, especially "Everything's Fine."
15. Catherine Wheel - 30th Century Man (1992, Fontana)
Released in the last week of 1992, this limited edition EP was a step up, sonically, for Catherine Wheel who had never sounded so confident and powerful, giving fans a taste of what they might get with 1993's Chrome. This is probably a controversial pick, given that three of the four songs here are covers, but Catherine Wheel seriously deliver the goods with these killer takes on Scott Walker's "30th Century Man," Husker Du's "Don't Wanna Know if You Are Lonely" and Mission of Burma's "That's When I Reach for My Revolver." Their cover of "30th Century Man" is particularly inspired, while the other two merely rip (while they make them their own). The EP's original, "Free of Mind," is great too.
Extended listening: If you just want great Catherine Wheel songs, the Black Metallic EP has four of them, including the title track which was a Modern Rock Radio hit in the U.S.
14. Kitchens of Distinction - Drive That Fast (1990, One Little Indian)
Kitchens of Distinction would probably be classified as dreampop these days; Julian Swales was up there with Robin Guthrie and Neil Halstead for being able to coax out gorgeous waterfalls of sound from his guitar, but bassist/frontman Patrick Fitzgerald was a confident frontman who had a lot to say. (They were probably closer to The Sound or The Chameleons than to Ride or Lush.) Released as a precursor to their second album, Strange Free World, "Drive That Fast" is one of KoD's best-ever singles and the EP's other tracks are all good, with the dark, boozy "These Drinkers" and a piano rendition of single "Elephantine" being standouts.
Runner up: The Elephantine EP has the full-on swirling version of the title track, plus three worthy other tracks.
13. Lilys - A Brief History of Amazing Letdowns (1993, spinART)
Kurt Heasley has reinvented Lilys a few times over the last 30 years, but the group began as noisy indie rockers who pulled equally from late-'80s Creation Records and Dinosaur Jr's freak scene. This wonderfully titled EP has some of Lilys' catchiest songs, including "Ginger" (which inexplicably ended up getting used in a 2007 Cadillac commercial), "Any Place I've Lived" and "Jenny, Andrew and Me." It's one of their best releases and, sadly, also one of the rarest...out of print, not on streaming services, and used copies are hard to come by.
Extended listening: Lilys' debut single, "February Fourteenth," is a real ripper.
12. Verve - All in the Mind (1992, Hut)
Before they became Britpop stars with “Bittersweet Symphony” and “Sonnet,” The Verve were just Verve (they had to add the "The" after legal threats from Verve Records), a band from Wigan, England who made out-there, super-groovy psych rock. The group pretty much disowned the title track of their debut EP moments after releasing it, but what do they know? “All in the Mind” is a propulsive space-hopper jam that really shows off Nick McCabe’s incendiary fretwork, Simon Jones’ deeply melodic bass, and the indispensable, jazzy style of drummer Peter Salisbury. The other two tracks -- the beautiful “One Way to Go” (featuring a great vocal from Richard Ashcroft) and dreamy “A Man Called Sun” -- are more indicative of where The Verve would go on their debut album, A Storm in Heaven.
Extended listening: The Verve E.P. was the band's introduction to the U.S., taking tracks from their first three singles/EPs, including "A Man Called Sun," and edits of their tripped-out A-sides "Gravity Grave" and "She's a Superstar."
11. Swervedriver - Duel (1993, Creation)
Another band who got better when they burned off some of that haze, Swervedriver made a massive leap between their first album, Raise, and their second, Mezcal Head. A big part of that was a new lineup of the band -- which included a much-improved rhythm section of drummer Jez Hindmarsh and bassist Steve George -- that could really rip. But it was also better songs and more muscular production courtesy producer Alan Moulder who was very busy in the early '90s. (He probably worked on half the records in this list.) The soaring, roaring "Duel," arguably the album's finest moment, is backed with two killer B's: the majestic "Planes Over the Skyline," and starry eyed "Year of the Girl," both of which have Jez going full Keith Moon.
Extended listening: Standalone single "Never Lose That Feeling," which would be tacked-on the U.S. edition of Mezcal Head, was actually the last record the original lineup of the band made. The EP version melts into the dubby "Never Learn," making for a very worthy 11 minutes.
10. Chapterhouse - Mesmerise (1991, Dedicated)
In the UK, there was a lot of cross-pollination between shoegaze, acid house and the Manchester scene, and few groups pulled all those together as successfully as Chapterhouse. Coming just a few months after releasing their debut album, Whirlpool, the four-song Mesmerise EP -- which is is sometimes listed as a single -- features two great examples of their blissed-out style: the title track, which blasts out thick waves of synthesizers against a piano hook, was as much a Madchester anthem as anything else; while “Precious One” rides a bongo-fueled groove. There’s also the swirling, ambient “Summer Chill” and the windswept guitar haze of “Then We’ll Rise.”
Extended listening: 1990’s Freefall EP falls a little more into space rock territory, but “Falling Down” -- which uses The Soul Searchers’ "Ashley’s Roachclip" drum break sample heard in Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” Milli Vanilli's “Girl You Know it’s True” (and on many, many, many other records) -- pointed to the direction they would soon be heading.
9. Curve - Blindfold (1991, Anxious)
Curve were an interesting group, as both Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia had been around for a while in the industry; Dean was a live member of The Eurythmics in the early-’80s, and they were both in short-lived ‘80s band State of Play, who made one record and then broke up. Dean played on Toni’s 1989 solo album, and then they decided to take another whack at a group, perhaps taking My Bloody Valentine’s “Soon” as an influence, mixing hazy guitars with dance music. With Halliday’s powerful pipes it was an alluring combination. Alan Moulder, who they’d worked with in State of Play and on Halliday’s solo album -- and who was THE shoegaze engineer -- was the de facto third member of the group. Curve released three EPs in 1991, all of which are great but the first, Blindfold, is the best with the seductive single "Ten Little Girls" featuring something no other record on this list has: rapping.
Extended listening: Curve’s second EP, Frozen, is also killer, featuring “Coast is Clear” -- one of their best-ever tracks. All three of their 1991 EPs were collected onto the Public Fruit album.
8. Velocity Girl - Velocity Girl (1993, Slumberland)
While mainly known for its influential punk scene, Washington DC also had a thriving indie rock scene in the late '80s and early-'90s that was heavily influenced by the UK's C-86 scene and labels like Creation, Cherry Red and 4AD. Velocity Girl, in fact, were named for Primal Scream's song on C-86, and played a similar style of very fuzzy janglepop. The group included former Black Tambourine member Archie Moore and, originally, Bridget Cross who, when she left to focus on Unrest, would be replaced by vocalist Sarah Shannon. The band's gift for melody, and love of shambolic, noisy guitars, is evident on this EP that collects songs from three early 7"s. "My Forgotten Favorite," which would turn up a few years later on the Clueless soundtrack, is the obvious standout (and arguably VG's best song), but the other five songs are equally stellar.
Extended listening: Velocity Girl were more fond of 7"s than EPs, but their 1993 debut Copacetic (released, like all their albums, on Sub Pop) has held up well, and gotten better with age.
7. Ride - Today Forever (1991, Creation)
Released just a few months after their debut album Nowhere, the Today Forever EP takes Ride out of the hazy murk and into cleaner production without sacrificing their signature swirl. The EP also shows a growing confidence in songwriting and arrangements, like with the powerful, deliberate “Sennen.” Today Forever was never released in the U.S., and is unknown still to a lot of fans, though three of its four tracks found their way onto the American "Vapour Trail" CD maxi-single...but it leaves off one of Ride’s prettiest songs ever, “Today.”
Extended listening: Ride’s 1989 debut EP contains classics “Chelsea Girl” and “Drive Blind.”
6. The Boo Radleys - Lazarus (1992, Creation)
Like a number of shoegaze bands, The Boo Radleys spent a couple years hiding their musical skill and good songwriting behind a wall of MBV-inspired noise. This resulted in some great music but when they came out of their shell, they got even better. Released not long after their wilfully dissonant Everything’s Alright Forever LP, the Lazarus EP felt a bit like seeing the band with a new pair of glasses. The signs had been there all along for The Boo Radleys, but all four songs here are a step up in every way. “Lazarus” would show up on 1993’s Giant Steps, but without the long, dubby EP intro that pays off so well when the song roars into focus. It's also amazing they'd delegate songs as good as "Petroleum" and "At the Sound of Speed" to b-side material.
Extended listening: 1991’s Every Heaven EP is pretty fantastic with a nice balance of melody and roar, and has one of the Boos’ best-ever songs, “The Finest Kiss.”
5. Slowdive - Holding Our Breath (1991, Creation)
While clearly influenced by the Cocteau Twins' shimmering style, Slowdive didn’t really sound like any other group from the original shoegaze era, with an oceanic guitar swell that remains unique and mysterious. “Catch the Breeze,” which would also show up on their 1991 debut album, Just for a Day, is an all-time classic but the rest of this EP is just as captivating. Rachel Goswell’s ethereal harmonies on “Shine” will never not send shivers down your spine, and their cover of Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair" is rather titanic.
Extended listening: Slowdive’s debut EP, Morningrise, nods to the band’s ‘80s goth youth while pointing toward the direction they’d soon head.
4. Moose - Jack (1991, Hut)
If it wasn't for Moose, this list might have to be called something slightly different, as the word "shoegaze" was first used in a Sounds review of one of their early gigs. That is probably enough to warrant an inclusion here, but luckily Moose were a great band who carved out a distinct corner in The Scene That Celebrates Itself. Their first of three 1991 EPs, Jack, was as dissonant as they got, but underneath the bandsaw guitars were melodies rooted in a classic songwriting style that owed as much to Burt Bacharach as the Velvet Underground. That would bubble up to the surface more as the band progressed, but you can hear it on both "Ballad Of Adam & Eve" and "Boy." The EP kicks off with the awesomely drony title track, and wraps with moody ballad "I'll Take Tomorrow."
Extended listening: By the release of their third 1991 EP, Reprise, they were already halfway to the breezier style they'd adopt for XYZ and subsequent albums, and it features the gorgeous, country-ish ballad "This River Never Will Run Dry." Songs from Moose's early EPs were cherry-picked for the Sonny and Sam EP, the only record Moose ever got released in America. Criminally underrated, I highly recommend you check them out.
3. Pale Saints - Flesh Balloon (1991, 4AD)
In between their first and second albums, Pale Saints added singer-songwriter-guitarist Meriel Barham to their lineup, changing the dynamic of the group for the better. She made her debut on this EP, singing lead on a playful, dreamy cover of Nancy Sinatra's "Kinky Love." The whole EP is fab, though, with the sprawling, dramatic "Hunted" -- which would show up on second album In Ribbons -- and is one of the best examples of the group's unique mix of beauty and noise. There's also a demo of "Hair Shoes," which shows up in full studio version on In Ribbons, but the real standout here is spectacular instrumental "Porpoise."
Extended listening: 1990's Half-Life Remembered is pretty great too, especially "Half Life" which toys with Madchester beats. The title track is great.
2. Lush - Mad Love (1990, 4AD)
Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie was behind the boards for this four song 12” that remains the perfect distillation of everything Lush did so well. Quintessential Lush song “De-Luxe” leads the EP that also includes the equally wonderful dreampop track "Thoughtforms" both of which feature Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson's signature guitar and vocal interplay. plus great minor chord slashers “Leaves Me Cold” and “Downer.” Lush made many great records during their brief run, but if you can only have one, make it this.
Extended listening: Lush’s debut, the six-song Scar mini-LP is excellent too, if a little rough around the edges. You don’t have to choose, either: Gala compiles Mad Love and Scar, plus a couple other tracks, on one album. It's also hard to argue with picking up Ciao! Best Of Lush which includes their dabblings in Britpop (like the title track which was a duet between Miki and Jarvis Cocker).
1. My Bloody Valentine - Tremolo (1991, Creation)
While My Bloody Valentine’s 1990 Glider EP features their danceable classic “Soon,” the 1991 Tremolo EP has an overall higher hit-count, and sees Kevin Shields and the rest of the band continuing to break new ground. Tremolo features the swirling, transportive “To Here Knows When,” the beautiful “Swallow,” glide guitar ripper “Honey Power” and the churning, Brian Wilson-esque “Moon Song.” Nearly 30 years later, listening to this dazzling EP's four songs will have you wondering "How did they make this?" and "are my stereo speakers functioning properly?" A must-own companion to Loveless.
Extended listening: Then again, Glider does have “Soon.” Get them both!
Here's a Spotify playlist with one track from each EP (except for Adorable, Bleach, Moose, and Curve whose EPs were not on Spotify).
Further reading: There is some crossover between this list and our list of "28 essential songs from the shoegaze / heavy crossover."
And don't miss what Ride, Slowdive and 22 others had to say about Cocteau Twins.