They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder and this couldn’t be closer to the truth than with Reading shoegazers Slowdive.
Three albums in the early to mid ‘90s gained them status as one of the hottest names in the UK indie rock scene. Then came a near two-decade hiatus and reflections within the music press who, eventually, came to the realisation that Slowdive were, in fact, worthy of celebration. The Reading band’s second album Souvlaki (1993), was even retrospectively considered a shoegaze masterpiece to rival My Bloody Valentine’s classic Loveless record.
Sometimes timing is everything in the music world and if your face doesn’t fit, then you’re, quite frankly, screwed. This was certainly the case for Slowdive by the end of their first chapter as a band. Their nuanced style of rock music swam against the alluring tide of mid-90’s Britpop. In 1995 Creation Records put pressure on them for a pop album to match the music environment they’d found themselves in. Frontman Neil Hallstead stubbornly refused to comply and what arrived, instead, was ambient third album Pygmalion. Which would result in a dropping from said label. The wound proved fatal. Goodbye Slowdive, goodnight Vienna. Well, not quite.
As the band wound down, their stock over the next couple of decades grew to icon status. Aware of the lasting esteem held of them in certain quarters, Slowdive decided to reform. In 2017, their self-titled record Slowdive arrived and was met with a level of acclaim to rival their Souvlaki heyday thanks to lauded tracks like ‘Star Roving’ and ‘Sugar for the Pill’.
They were aided by support from the likes of BBC 6Music and Pitchfork who championed their new music as if a prodigal son had returned. And it was all very much deserved. Their fourth album is a stunning shoegaze record which more than holds its own against other big guitar records from that year.
Six years on and Slowdive have returned again with Everything Is Alive. Like before, their new one is another reminder of their timeless quality. Slowdive can’t fail to impress again with a new collection of tracks both gorgeous and atmospheric. Their fifth record is simply fantastic – the Reading band progressing their sound to deeper levels of shoegaze goodness.
Immediately capturing our attention is intense curtain raiser ‘Shanty’ featuring dark synth loops and haunting vocals: “Time runs on once more/Another ghost is born/I feel like change will come/When the night rolls in” sings frontman Neil Halstead in the chorus. The instrumental ‘Prayer remembered’ is equally as gorgeous to continue the sound of apocalyptic dread. These opening two tracks are arguably the album’s high points, extra kudos granted for their boldness in throwing the listener into the deep end and doubling down on their lack of pop appeal. Even still, the record’s opening can’t fail but have hair-raising impact.
‘Alife’ aims at a more conventional Slowdive guitar driven sound though is considerably less interesting than what it has followed. ‘Andulucia plays’, on the other hand, floats us into the clouds with dreamy synths, gorgeous guitar work and sense of nostalgia. Halstead again matches the feel of the track with lyrical theme: “Chained to the clouds / You are my angel” he swoons in the chorus. ‘Kisses’ then lures us back down to earth, a more focused contrast to the former track with an irresistible hazy sunshine vibe. It’s these change ups which ensure freshness is maintained throughout this wonderful record.
Where the second half may not maintain the earlier levels (‘Chained to a cloud’ struggles to hold our attention by the end of its six and a half minute run time), album closer ‘The slab’ allows Slowdive to depart with their heads held high. The finale is an outstanding piece of music: a 90-second build up meets Neil Halstead’s lo-fi vocals and haunting guitars. As the Slowdive singer would reveal in a press release, the album closer is “the heaviest on the record and as the name suggests we wanted it to feel like a big slab of music.” Breathtaking stuff.
Everything Is Alive keeps you on your toes from start to finish, moving between a feeling of melancholia and hope, between a classic sound and depth-filled freshness. There’s new ground to cover and Slowdive aren’t afraid to explore it. Music which grabs your attention, awakens your mind and eases you into the rest of the day. And in an age of comeback stories where ‘90s bands play shows as a vehicle for legacy and nostalgia, Slowdive’s return over the last few years has been refreshing in its progressiveness.