When Slowdive reformed in 2014 to play live once again, nineteen years after their last album Pygmalion, they hinted at new material, but it’s taken three years for the new self titled album to see the light of day. When one of your favourite bands of all time returns after such a long time one is bound to have certain apprehensions as to whether it’s going to live up to the previous material and whether to set the expectations high, as much as one might want to. Any doubts here are groundless, the album is mostly in the vibe of Souvlaki, with smatterings of both Just for a Day and Pygmalion, creating the lush atmospheres they’ve always been known for, but still forward thinking, and showing all the hundreds of Slowdive clones and worship bands that have sprung up over the years how it should be done.
On the first two albums especially, the music of Slowdive revolved around Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead’s voices, a warm grounded bass, and most importantly the swirling guitar sound (that this website happens to be named after) that’s so powerful that when they hit the guitar pedals the noise created was so powerful it was like it tore through the fabric of space and time to reveal a dimension of bright and colorful gorgeous sound. When the high pitched guitar starts swirling around on opener Slomo, and the warm bass oozes forth, Halstead’s voice comes in with effect laden high pitched vocals sounding smoother than they ever have, before Goswell starts cooing beautifully over the top, it’s clearly the Slowdive we all know and love. Dreamy soundscapes and upbeat song writing, they’ve lost little of the penchant of atmosphere in the intervening twenty two years. There’s a noticeable lack of distortion to the guitars compared to the first two albums (the album generally being closer in sound to the shoegaze of the early days than the post-rock/ambient of Pygmalion), the guitar sounds are more lush and atmospheric than heavy hitting but it’s still recognizable as the classic sound of Slowdive. Star Roving was the lead single, and the most upbeat song they’ve ever done gave me goosebumps when I first heard it, the guitar sound more forceful and song writing faster and more energetic in an upbeat summery sound. The main riff and vocal lines from Halstead are catchy and addictive and it’s the song that stays in the memory even at the end of the album. The guitars swirl and crunch with a great sound and whilst a different atmosphere than they’ve been known for in the past it shows they aren’t just back after all this time to re-tread old ground.
Don’t Know Why and Everyone Knows are more Goswell-centric vocally, the former an upbeat but relaxed and calming piece with a floaty, dreamy guitar sound, Halstead lending some soft vocals at points, whilst the latter opens with a Cocteau Twins-esque delayed riff before the wash of sound comes in over another lovely upbeat summery track with gorgeously soft vocals from Goswell. It’s paced really well, the wall of sound breaking up to an acoustic riff, giving it more emphasis when the guitars wash over you once again. No Longer Making Time is more Halstead-centric again, with a simple riff laden in reverb giving a backdrop to more soft vocals, until it builds up to one of the most gorgeous walls of sound of the whole album in that chorus, the part that’s the heaviest hitting in the whole album, in a song that’s up there with the best in their discography.
The last two tracks show the most experimentation on the album, Go Get It taking the vague delay driven post-rock sound of Pygmalion, and combining it with effects sounding somewhere between the psychedelia of Souvlaki Space Station and Pink Floyd’s Breathe, and with effects laden, hazy vocals from both Halstead and Goswell the song has a looser and more experimental feel that takes a few listens to really absorb, but once you do you can appreciate the range of textures here that do more than just drown in a wall of sound. The piano intro to the closing, and longest track, Falling Ashes is a little jarring at first listen from a band that are known so much for their guitar driven sound but once the smooth repetitive guitar comes in it makes sense as a whole with a soft melancholic atmosphere . The vocals from Halstead sound more like his guest appearance on Alcest’s Away than they do his works with Slowdive, a soft melancholic tone that perfectly matches this minimalist atmosphere, especially with Goswell’s smooth quiet singing in the background. It’s a more minimal track like Pygmalion’s Rutti but much more structured while more vocal centric than is expected from Slowdive, but it grows on you after a few plays, the soft singing of the vague lyrics with the repeated chorus “Thinking about love” becoming as memorable as aforementioned Star Roving.
There’s been hundreds of bands inspired by Slowdive’s sound who’ve sprung up to fill the void left by them in the twenty two years they were away from the studio, but none of them were able to create that gorgeous irreproducible sound that’s kept them in the hearts of minds of shoegaze fans throughout the decades. Their return with it’s mostly calm and upbeat atmospheres might be a little underwhelming for those who want to hear huge swells of distortion, but despite the slight change of sound they’ve still created something forward thinking, completely and utterly gorgeous and 100% pure Slowdive that should have an emotional resonance with everyone who’s loved their music through the years. Now we can just hope it’s not a one off and they’ll stick around a while longer to make up for lost time.