Release Date: May 5, 2017
Record label: Dead Oceans Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
It pays to be wary when bands of yore come reforming, the suspicion all-too-often one of bank balance replenishment posing as creative renaissance. This is not a concern applicable to Slowdive; their first album since 1995's Pygmalion is deep, textured, relevant and necessary. And while the sonic palette is familiar from first time around - each pedal-doused swirl of guitar; the distant, refracted boy/girl vocals - any (lazy) accusation of shoegaze revivalism is nimbly side-stepped by the contemporary context underpinning each composition.
One band who've enjoyed something of a renaissance amidst the spate of recent reunions is clearly Slowdive. Unfairly maligned and ridiculed by sections of the music press first time around, their music has managed to achieve what any self-respecting artist strives for: a timeless quality not only revered by consumers and fans, but also becoming one of the most influential bands from the past two decades in the process. Unthinkable as it may have once seemed, the likes of Mogwai, M83 and even Deafheaven probably would not exist in their present guises were it not for Slowdive.
Shoegaze remains one of music's more nebulous terms. After all, it lingers between the extremes of noise rock and dream pop, a signifier that began almost as a term of abuse, before being embraced, and subsequently used so widely that its very meaning began to wash away like so many reverb-drenched guitar chords. If shoegaze is to have one, single, defining band, though, then it could very well be Slowdive.
Of all the shoegazers, Slowdive were the most unpredictable. Their first three albums, as well as their handful of EPs, revealed that this band, more than any of the scene's other main acts, were about forging a path to the unknown. The last we heard from them was 1995's Pygmalion, a full-on ambient record that was the complete opposite of the pop record their label Creation asked for. (Creation dropped them a week after its release.) Following that, songwriters Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell started Mojave 3 and became pensive folkies.
It's no secret that shoegaze finds itself in dire straits these days due to a lack of innovation. While the genre's roots are alive and evident, contemporary artists are electing to show flashes of it in their pop or metal rather than playing a traditional shoegaze sound. Creating ethereal dream pop in the style of Beach House or channeling punishing metal riffs through delay pedals like Alcest is about the extent of forward thinking that the genre has seen over the last 20 years.
Nature metaphors come so readily to mind when listening to shoegaze--clouds, stars, skies, storms, oceans, whirlwinds, maelstroms--that it's easy to believe that, like the weather it evokes, it just sort of happens. Invest in the right guitar pedals, put the right breathy spin on your vocals, and bam--instant Loveless , or close enough to fool a stoned and heartsick teenager. It's as easy as walking out your front door and letting the spring air greet you.
Slowdive make a resounding comeback with one of the strongest shoegaze albums of recent years, showing modern acts how it's done and reminding listeners why they're considered among the best of the genre's heyday. Following the return of My Bloody Valentine a few years back, their peers, Slowdive, have also decided to come out of the woodwork for a long-awaited return. A new generation of fans now exist, just like they do for My Bloody Valentine, and the phenomenon of the Internet since the release of their last record has brought a new, revolutionary meaning to word-of-mouth transmission. They have returned with a renewed sense of inspiration after two decades of pursuing other projects like Mojave 3.
Twenty-two years have passed since Slowdive released their third LP and were swiftly dropped from their label. Nonetheless, anticipation for their long-awaited follow-up has been steadily building since their 2014 reunion and accompanying tour. The band’s trajectory has been a somewhat unique one: if every good story fits into some pattern of rise and fall, Slowdive have traversed the “Cinderella” arc, rising to prominence and fame in the early ‘90s only to be chewed up by the British press as taste for shoegaze declined.
22 years is a long time to wait for an album, just ask My Bloody Valentine fans, who waited almost the exact same amount of time between their 1991 opus Loveless and its highly-anticipated follow-up m b v. It's impossible not to compare their trajectory to their shoegaze contemporaries, Slowdive, who have also had a 22 year break in between albums - although the same kind of expectation was never placed on them. Whereas Kevin Shields was reportedly feverishly working on MBV's third album for the whole two decades, Slowdive broke up, worked on other projects, receded into obscurity and seemed to be forgotten about for the same amount of time.
W hen groups reform, it can take years to negotiate the chasm between what we want from them, and what they're capable of delivering. Most never manage it. Slowdive, however, now sound powerful, confident, the band they always wanted to be. All phases of their short career are toyed with: the dense proto-gothicism of the early EPs, Souvlaki's elegant swaddle-pop and the eerie electronica of Pygmalion.
The latest in a long line of ’90s heroes to have returned in the past few years, Slowdive have spent the time since their initial reunion reminding old timers and new generations quite how many brilliant gems they have in their back pockets. The band’s new, self-titled album sees them ageing gracefully, but not without tweaks, even if reinvention is too strong a word. First single ‘Star Roving’ is a propulsive, rollocking beast that takes them closer to post-rock territory than the more laid-back shoegaze they made their name on.
At the risk of encouraging more disbanded groups to reform and clog up festival lineups for the next 20 years, there is a certain pleasure in hearing an originator of a genre produce the purest, boldest version of their trademark sound. Slowdive's shoegaze influence can be heard in so many contemporary guitar groups - a fact made even sweeter given they were derided by the press and dropped by label Creation after 1995's Pygmalion album. Following their recent successful live comeback, their fourth album is without the self-consciousness or pastiche of other acts who attempt to resuscitate their own dead corpse.
Back in 1991, the shoegaze scene had reached the zenith of its brief history. My Bloody Valentine's extraordinary, genre-defining classic Loveless was released that year; Ride were the darlings of the indie press with their combination of fresh faces, floppy fringes and epic guitar anthems. It was also the year that Slowdive, the third member of shoegaze's most enduring triumvirate, emerged with their debut album Just For A Day.
After their breakup following 1995's Pygmalion, Slowdive reunited after almost 20 years in 2014. Following a slate of well-received live shows comes this, their first full-length or new music of any kind since the aforementioned Pygmalion and in many ways their first true full-band album since 1993's Souvlaki. As such, the eight songs here often feel like the album they would have made between Souvlaki and Pygmalion, with tracks such as the first single "Star Roving" (like the majority of the tracks here) nodding towards Souvlaki, while the ambient-influenced, post-rock beauty of album closer "Falling Ashes" leans towards Pygmalion.
SURELY NO BAND HAS seen their cultural capital rise as much in the past 20 years as Slowdive, their hazy, lambent sound, dismissed by Britpop Luddites, hated "more than Hitler" by Richey Manic, to become an audible influence on every woozy, washed-out act from Beach House and Deerhunter to Grimes and Lana Del Ray. Now, following a 2014 reunion and a rapturously received run of live shows, comes a new album. Recorded in the Courtyard in Oxford, and mixed at Los Angeles' Sunset Sound by Beach House producer Chris Coady, Slowdive is a surprisingly joyously return to the fray.
As time goes by, things change. Tastes change. So, 20 odd years later, do you still have something to say? Are you still relevant or are you here to, as the Monty Python crew once put it, just pay off your debts? There's nothing particularly wrong with nostalgia though, especially when it gives fans who weren't there the first time around the chance to hear it all first hand.
Slowdive's brief and wondrous '90s run was like a pleasant dream: hazy textures, deep emotional heft that remained fuzzy around the edges and an end that came far too quickly. You knew you there was something special left behind in their wake, but it was fleeting and hard to piece together all the details. Formed in Reading, England, and centered around the interlocking vocals of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, Slowdive had a knack for extracting the melancholia and heartbreak from the shoegaze aesthetic and making it glisten.
Out of all the pioneering shoegaze bands, Slowdive were the ones who brought a semblance of normalcy to a sound that was destined to lose its novelty quickly. The Reading band made it approachable and tactile, which is why future generations were more keen to adopt on their production aesthetic more than their friendly opponents My Bloody Valentine. While Kevin Shields gave it a highly complex and unfamiliar technicality, Slowdive opted to embrace a more human and even romantic bearing.
When they returned to the stage after two decades, the members of Slowdive had no intention of being a mere shoegaze nostalgia act, playing the old songs to death until there was nobody left save for the custodial crew. They almost instantly made plans to record new music, and after a few years of writing and recording, the 2017 album Slowdive is the result. Taking elements from the music each member has made in the time since the band's demise and wrapping them in modern production techniques while still coating everything in a familiar velvety haze, the album is a worthy addition to their catalog.
Britpop nearly murdered shoegaze. The latter's esoteric artiness and shy practitioners, their vague, deafening noisescapes and androgynous sensuality had no place in the new national climate of swigging lager to resalvaged 60s licks while delighting in the Gallaghers' cheeky application of the phrase "fucking poofter". Thus Ride begat Hurricane #1, Lush rebranded as a Sleeper homage and My Bloody Valentine disappeared until long after the whole torrid affair, and two Iraq Wars, had blown over.
Patience was not a virtue in 1995. The number one song in America was “Creep”. Not a late-charting for Radiohead’s anthem, but the TLC song. Immediacy was omnipresent in radio… maybe not the best time for the vanishing shoegaze of Slowdive. Their most obscure record ….
Slowdive are a magical experience that separates your soul from your body and returns it all the more pure. 22 years later and here we are with Slowdive -- a self-titled record filled with statements of love. It's like they never missed a beat. You'd think that such a long gap in between albums would result in some rust but even those moments are turned into ethereal notes; and melodies that swarm you and warm you. It doesn't matter which era of indie/emo/shoegaze/dream pop you're immersed in or came from.
Given the goodwill that they've generated since disbanding--the well-regarded reissues , documentaries , and legions of younger bands hailing them as influences--it's easy to forget how badly Slowdive's first run as a band ended. Their second album Souvlaki is now as much of a shoegaze ur-text as any My Bloody Valentine recording, but at the time it was just a mostly notable for the fact that it was made in a cannabinoid haze, in part, with Brian Eno. Following the release of that record, they drifted further into that stoned ether: According to the liner notes for a reissue of their third album Pygmalion , they were asked to deliver a pop record by the head of their label, and decided to do the exact opposite, releasing nine tracks of heavenly kosmische and ambient electronics--its opening track "Rutti" was over 10 minutes long.