5th May 2017 – Dead Oceans
02. Star Roving
03. Don’t Know Why
04. Sugar for the Pill
05. Everyone Knows
06. No Longer Making Time
07. Go Get It
08. Falling Ashes10
As one of the most vibrant players in the early imaginings of shoegaze and providing early 90’s indie rock with a particularly ethereal form of facelift, it is no surprise that Slowdive have been edging the needle of everybody’s music radar into the red ever since their comeback. Considering this is their first full length album in over twenty years, it would be fair to say it scores pretty highly on the ‘quite a big deal’ spectrum. Decades may have passed, but their aptitude for creating hazy, serene musical atmospheres that could swallow you whole like a mattress made of cloud remains as potent as ever. With the benefit of the leaps and bounds that have been made in music technology in the interim, Slowdive have managed to produce an album that feels contemporary without sacrificing the fugue-like air of nostalgia and the longing melancholy that permeated their sound from the outset.
All fears of this self-titled album being potentially consigned to the worryingly steep pile of mediocre comeback albums that has been growing over the past few years are immediately dispelled with the opening track “Slowmo”. The opening guitar notes are steeped in liberal doses of reverb and delay, resting comfortably on a bed of warm synths in order to lull the listener into the Slowdive dream that will entrance them for the following three quarters of an hour.
“Slowmo” and the majority of the other tracks largely reject rock’s verse/chorus mould in favour of loose waves of guitars that grow and diminish in cycles, like waves breaking on the shoegaze shoreline. Not only does this match with the emotional tone and musical direction of the record, it also creates a lasting taste of post-rock that shows the band is more concerned with sustaining an atmosphere that spans an entire album rather than providing instant gratification with each individual song.
In order to keep this atmospheric focus from fading across the record’s run time, Slowdive provide a couple of tracks that liven things up, including the first single “Star Roving”. A little more overdrive is applied to the guitars on this track, giving them a sunbaked, crisp quality, but with just enough residual reverb to keep them shimmering like the horizon on a decidedly hot day. In contrast, “Sugar for the Pill” delivers a punctual untreated drum beat alongside a mid-paced bass groove, making it stand out as the track with the greatest pop sensibility and acts as a pleasant change of pace at the album’s halfway mark.
Where Slowdive really excel are in their more intimate and mournful moments, and they prove this yet again on this album. Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s harmonised vocals fit beautifully together on “No Longer Making Time” and work perfectly over the dreary guitar motif and sliding bass guitar, creating a bittersweet ache that could rival even “Alison” from their seminal record Souvlaki.
Everything comes to a head on the minimalist piano closing track “Falling Ashes”. By stripping away the shoegaze guitar aesthetic, Slowdive create a stark but calming contrast in the album’s final moments that pulls you ever deeper into their dream rather than snapping you out of it.
The initial luke-warm critical reception that greeted Slowdive in the 90’s is still understandable, as it’s very easy to place the disingenuous tag on any form of ambient music which, from the outside looking in, appears obsessed with style over substance – but with the fine attention to detail in the sound design and nuances in the layers of instrumentation throughout this self-titled comeback record show that they continue to stand head and shoulders above the naysayers. The trio of albums they released in the 90’s may sound a little dated in retrospect after listening to this record due to how pristine and smooth it is, which begs the question of whether or not it will fall into the same trap after a further twenty years of music technology innovation. For now, we can celebrate another fantastic addition to the Slowdive discography and broader shoegaze catalogue, reminding us that there is always room for music to accompany our longest walks, loneliest days and quietest nights spent under the naked starlight.