It’s right there in the title: This is a story of shoegaze. Pointedly, this is not the story of shoegaze. How could it be? Box sets like these can summarize artists and record labels with relative ease, but they rarely do the same justice to genres or subgenres. Shoegaze in particular became so splintered and so varied over the course of its beginnings and popular heyday that a definitive account is something of a dream in itself. Nevertheless, Still in a Dream aims to sum up the highlights of the once-reviled and now-revered movement in guitar pop, and while it admirably fails, it uncovers and polishes some of the movement’s long-forgotten gems.

To answer the big question: No, My Bloody Valentine is not on this set. Even though they provided the title of the box, they’re the sort of band that defies reduction down to one song. But there was more to shoegaze than a few talismanic groups; the movement echoed the DIY ethos of punk in many ways, and as in punk, many shoegaze groups flamed out after a few songs. Still in a Dream works best in giving those groups a moment to shine, and it also does well to connect shoegaze to its roots in goth and twee pop.

Things start with the genre’s progenitors and sort-of participants, most notably The Jesus and Mary Chain and Cocteau Twins. They, along with the likes of AR Kane, Ultra Vivid Scene and Spacemen 3, brought different elements that would eventually be gobbled up into shoegaze. The goth edge of AR Kane and the Mary Chain, the druggy psychedelia of Spacemen 3: it all played some part in turning shoegaze into what it eventually became, and this is only emphasized by laying these tracks alongside the scores of followers.

The story becomes a familiar one with disc two and the arrival of the names and tunes that fans may remember. Ride, Slowdive, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse and even the inexplicably-revered Lush all take a turn in the spotlight. While these bands may not be represented by their best work—Ride certainly wrote better songs than “Drive Blind”—each song is representative of the shift that shoegaze made on its way to becoming shoegaze. This music exists in an odd place: While it relies on rock instruments, these bands (save for maybe Swervedriver) didn’t really rock in a traditional sense. And the dreamy, ethereal soundscapes that so characterize shoegaze were about as far from traditional pop as you could get without veering into experimental territory.

Remarkably, shoegaze’s idiosyncratic nature worked towards the commercial success of several groups for a while. It got to the point that a band-by-committee like Curve (formed by synth-pop survivors Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia) could emulate the genre in a bid for the charts. (One listen to “Ten Little GRLS” on disc three confirms that they were actually really good at making this music.) Still in a Dream only falls short qualitatively when it gets to covering the genre’s point of commercial saturation, perhaps best summarized by Revolver’s “Heaven Sent an Angel,” which is essentially Ride-as-radio-fodder. All stories have to end, though.

While there is certainly an Anglophilic bent to this set, American bands aren’t ignored entirely. The last two discs of Still in a Dream largely attempt to summarize the splintered American shoegaze scene, from the mighty Swirlies to the inexplicably-included Mercury Rev. Unlike in Britain, where scenes were small and close-knit enough to create some sort of thematic unity that existed between many different bands, America is just far too big and sprawling for anything like that to happen. As such, each American band’s take on shoegaze is infused with aggressively regional ideas and concepts, from the arty and aggressive Boston college-rock that pops up on The Swirlies’ “The Car by the Side of the Road” to the detached New York-ness of Luna’s “23 Minutes in Brussels.” It’s ultimately a side story that defies easy summation, no matter how hard the curators of this box set tried.

Overall, though, Still in a Dream is a solid effort to chronicle a genre steadily rising in stature among music fans. It’s far from definitive, but it makes no pretenses about being definitive. Instead, it seeks to give listeners an idea of where shoegaze came from and how the sounds and styles most associated with the genre came to be. As a gateway, it mostly succeeds in its efforts to cut through the haze and give a valuable perspective on a genre defined by myth and vagueness. Despite this intrusion of clarity, though, the subtle power of this set’s finest songs never diminishes.

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