S/T by Slowdive
Genre: Shoegaze, Dream Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Star Roving,” “Everyone Knows,” “No Longer Making Time”
Just like Swervedriver, Lush, My Bloody Valentine, and The Jesus & Mary Chain before them (and soon to be Ride, after them), Slowdive are here to cash in on a moment. Just as he did for all of those aforementioned acts in the ‘90s with LOVELESS, My Bloody Valentine and Kevin Shield’s return for M B V in 2013 forged a pathway for shoegaze nostalgia to scratch and claw its way back into the music culture. Now, Slowdive is up to bat.
Even in spite of the group really just transitioning into the western-country dream pop outfit Mojave 3, for a group of shoegaze purists, Slowdive’s return isn’t just notable, but essential to this resurgence. In the time after its release, the band’s 1993 album SOUVLAKI has revealed itself to be not just one of the genre’s five most important albums, but really one of the defining examples of shoegaze’s slow transition into dream pop.
After 22 years, SLOWDIVE feels like a return to the Slowdive of our culture’s selective memory. While their 1995 album PYGMALION displayed a rejection of the lush pop sounds SOUVLAKI had presented, choosing instead to explore ambient instrumentals and meandering drone passages, SLOWDIVE is straightforward and wonderfully crafted dream pop, the kind that has made the group endure all these years later.
More than that, Slowdive’s proper 2017 return, unlike, say, The Jesus & Mary Chain’s 2017 comeback, doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of ideas to their best work. Slowdive seem to have looked back on their 22-year hiatus and really considered what elements of their music allowed for this kind of legacy in the first place, with a lot of regret. Perhaps history’s reconsideration of the band (they were famously lambasted by the UK press, with publications like NME and Melody Maker going to task calling them a “soulless void” or “unfulfilling”) is rooted somewhat in a desperate attempt to recalculate much of the disillusionment that lead to the shuttering of Creation Records at the end of the ‘90s. But their return doesn’t feel so much like fan service as it does an honest next step for a band that was denied the opportunity two decades ago. More than ever the band continues to blur the line between shoegaze and dream pop, and SLOWDIVE continues to explore luscious guitar tracks with a warming, yet hazy, atmosphere.
Smartly, Slowdive position their more accessible songs at the top of the record. “Slomo” is a daring but welcoming opening track that really explores the spaces in between the expansive walking guitar line and the soothing synthesizers. At almost seven minutes, “Slomo” is a perfect reintroduction to the band and a proper introduction for those who are just discovering the pioneering Englanders; it reinforces all of the comforting loneliness that the genre is famous for, while showcasing the affectionate zeal that’s proved to be the musical backbone of the band for years. Proper singles like the Mogwai-ish “Sugar for the Pill,” or the mellifluously cosmic “Star Roving,” reinforce the group’s willingness to still explore their sound, either through a murmuring post-punk influence or through the expansive echoes of the stadiums they never got to play.
The back half of the album finds a more relaxed, if not expected, groove. “Everybody Knows” and “Go Get It” haven’t missed a beat from their ‘90s heyday, offering beautiful and hurried chaos. “No Longer Making Time,” somewhat of a spiritual successor to “When the Sun Hits,” soars in its repetition, both in the bassline and the structure of the verses. Admittedly, for as many small risks as there are on this album, risks that apex with the haunting piano that drips away on “Falling Ashes” (a sound that magically lands somewhere between the score of SPIRITED AWAY and Gary Jules’s cover of “Mad World”), SLOWDIVE is an incredibly comfortable listen. These are very familiar sounds, and even when Slowdive are presenting a version of themselves that’s very obviously been molded and warped by age, influence, and nostalgia, they’re doing so freely and without the overbearingness or oversaturation of what the shoegaze scene was. It’s easy to hear songs like “Everyone Knows” or “Don’t Know Why” and forget how impressive it is that they created something that feels so canonized to Slowdive this many years later.
An easy knock of SLOWDIVE, or even the band itself, would be to say that history was right to have discredited them and that their reunion is fueled by people wearing rose-colored glasses who weren’t there when other albums providing a similar emotional catharsis were being released. And they’d be right. I (and I don’t doubt many many others) have only discovered the band in the years since that era of shoegaze has been collectively reanalyzed and ultimately celebrated. But in 2017, I don’t so much hear Slowdive’s past being recreated as much as I hear a bullish and admirable attempt at making another classic. SLOWDIVE may fall short of that mark, but nonetheless remains one of the decade’s most beautiful and well-crafted comeback albums.