In 1995, Slowdive released their third album, Pygmalion. Sparse, ambient, and even less commercial than the band’s previous work, the album was a sales flop and led to Slowdive being dropped from their label and eventually splintering apart. Coinciding with the surging popularity of Britpop as delivered by acts such as Oasis and Blur, this was essentially the death knell of the UK’s original shoegaze scene.
Considering their long hiatus after Pygmalion, you’d be forgiven for not knowing Slowdive released a new album this year. The pioneering shoegazers have always had a subdued, quiet edge to them, especially in comparison to their legendarily ear-splitting contemporaries such as My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Adjectives used to describe 1993’s Souvlaki, widely considered to be Slowdive’s artistic apex, range from “blissed-out” and “soothing” to “lazy” and downright “boring.”
In typical Slowdive fashion, the band’s latest album, Slowdive, came without excessive fanfare. The release is full of the notoriously gorgeous, reverb-soaked melodies and spacey arrangements that fans have come to expect from the band. Skirting the comeback jinx which might be expected from a twenty-two year gap between releases, Slowdive goes above and beyond to stand as the band’s liveliest work.
One of the things most apparent when listening to Slowdive is the group’s renewed sense of immediacy. Slowdive has never sounded so alive as on their lead single, “Star Roving,” with a driving drumbeat that makes the track seem positively frenetic in comparison to the sedate tempos the band made its name with. On tracks such as “Everyone Knows,” Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead’s vocals twist together in unison under a sort of bottomless ocean of melodic guitar washes. Album closer, “Falling Ashes,” casts a repeated sequence of four piano notes over an atmospheric melange of echoed guitar picking, close vocal harmonies, and an ambience dark and ambiguous enough to make Burial proud.
Although still hazy in mood, Slowdive discards the gauziness of Souvlaki and the minimalism of Pygmalion in favour of a vitality which makes the album an absolute thrill to listen to. For a band considered archetypical of a genre often maligned as self-indulgent and without focus, Slowdive has drawn on both their shoegaze roots and the wave of artists which followed in the group’s influential footsteps to create their most engaging album to date.
Slowdive are currently on tour and will be visiting Vancouver on October 23. To buy tickets, click here.