Slowdive Slowdive

[Dead Oceans; 2017]

Styles: shoegaze
Others: Seefeel, AR Kane, Cocteau Twins

~ For the heads ~

The music of Slowdive has always seemed to exist in its own world. Like a fog of ethereal chords from which the sound was shaped, the music arrived nearly fully realized on their (also) self-titled 12-inch EP from 1990 and has, over time, remained so singular that not one among the hordes of admiring shoegaze bands has been able to replicate it with the same impact. But that’s part of the problem. Aspects of modern shoegaze, singular in its own right, come from this short-sighted attempt to create a facsimile of these sounds, in part through anachronistic effects processing. A misconception regarding Slowdive’s past work is that much of the band’s sound hinged on a cheap Yamaha FX500 multi-effects processor, but thinking you could just plug into one of those and get “the sound” would be missing the point, as proven by several almost-there but not-quite YouTube demonstrations.

All this is to say that if you aren’t already a fan, you may not appreciate Slowdive, the band’s first album in over 20 years. You might scope that YouTube video and think, “Yeah this sounds exactly like the Slowdive sound.” What I hear in Slowdive, however, is an ideal iteration of their aesthetics. Even m b v didn’t have that going for it; recorded partially in the past (in contrast to the contemporary recordings on Slowdive’s new one), m b v was destined to be loved immediately but ignored long term: an eternally gestating Loveless afterbirth whose album cover couldn’t help but reference its predecessor, whose title almost acted as a lowercase apology for tarnishing the legacy of an albatross. The comparison begs to be made, so here you go: m b v is good, Slowdive is great.

Of course, the original scene that Slowdive’s music occupied no longer exists, and like plenty of other artists, the band disappeared with it. But they return to us now with an album that sounds both expectantly familiar and not exactly like any of their previous releases. The songwriting on Slowdive is strong, as if the best ideas they’ve had over the last 22 years were held back for this release instead of their members’ other projects (Mojave 3, Monster Movie, any number of Neil Halstead’s solo albums, Rachel Goswell’s Waves Are Universal), condensing some of the most compelling aspects of their catalog into a cohesive whole.

Halstead in particular has incorporated the silvery guitar lines circa Pygmalion into somewhat more pop-oriented songs, while Simon Scott wrings urgency from otherwise languid songforms through propulsive percussion, notably on “Don’t Know Why,” “Everybody Knows,” and “Star Roving.” Then there’s the potentially alienating “Sugar For the Pill,” a great single that sounds like Pygmalion via soft rock, which is already ruffling the feathers of some longtime fans. “Go Get It” feels of a lineage with “Blue Skied An’ Clear,” all rippling washes of delayed guitar on the chorus, with weird, echoing, time-stretched verses. “Falling Ashes” is a frigid piano ballad augmented by Scott doing live loops that sounds empty, while the lyrics ruminate on the passage of time (according to Halstead, the track is also a good indicator of what to expect from them in the future). Meanwhile, Goswell’s and Halstead’s voices are in excellent form; there’s even slight vocal manipulation using post effects that adds to their otherworldliness.

Slowdive don’t sound as young as they once did, but they’ve aged in a way that sounds natural.

Roughly a week after Pygmalion was released, on February 6, 1995, Slowdive were dropped from their label, Creation Records. After a string of critically acclaimed singles, the excellent if underrated Just For A Day, and the now-considered-classic Souvlaki, Pygmalion was career suicide. To understand just how severe the reaction was, you have to consider that the original run of shoegaze was at its nadir and many of the scene’s players were already making the leap over to the burgeoning Britpop scene. My Bloody Valentine hadn’t been heard from in four years. Siamese Dream had pilfered many of shoegaze’s interesting aspects and melded them with arena rock bombast all the way to critical and commercial gold. The album itself had a sound informed as much by Aphex Twin’s ambient work as The Durutti Column’s early albums, and it hadn’t yet been corralled under the umbrella of “post-rock,” even though the term was used the previous year to identify the somewhat similar work of Bark Psychosis. In other words, the world wasn’t quite ready for what Slowdive were offering at the time.

Now, years later, with the online proliferation of the Souvlaki demo bootlegs and their studio recordings, the atmosphere feels right. That Slowdive could not only reunite but also headline festivals in 2017 seems like a weird dream come true. But that’s the utterly baffling reality: the past inside the present.

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