The Return of Slowdive

The biggest news from Monday was the surprise announcement of the reunion of seminal shoegaze band Slowdive.  While the news didn’t break the internet like the shocking release of My Bloody Valentine’s long-awaited followup to Loveless, it still brought a cheer to those who remember those lonely nights while Souvlaki played softly on the stereo of an empty apartment (though actual personal experiences may vary, it is has been my experience that these are in fact the optimal conditions for listening to the album).

For those who are interested in the particulars of the news announcement, the band announced that they will be playing the Primavera Sound festival, which takes place in Barcelona at the end of May.  Just take a look at all the other headliners–it’s hard to imagine a more loaded lineup.  In addition, the band announced a London show, and more dates will be added.  And have no fear American fans (like myself), the band is hopeful that they can record a new album together, so there’s reason to think it won’t be a one-off kind of thing like the Pavement reunion was (the new go-to example now that the Pixies have decided to release new music once again).  And while there were some publications that expressed reservations about the motives of the band (see Stereogum, AV Club), in an interview with The Quietus the band assured fans that this was done with more noble intentions in mind.

So, why should you care about this particular reunion?

In my mind, there were two titans of shoegaze, a peculiar genre that was popular in Britain in the late-80’s/early 90’s: My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive.  I’ve always appreciated the term “shoegaze”, because of all the various microgenres that the casual music fan might encounter, it gives the best idea of what the music actually sounds like (contrast it with say, “krautrock”).  It conjures up both ideas of melancholy (staring at the “shoes”)  and dreaminess/haziness (the “gaze” component), both of which appear in sizable quantities in the genre.  I always felt that MBV focused more on the former, while Slowdive’s great asset was its emphasis on the latter.  (For the record, if you are completely unfamiliar with My Bloody Valentine, I suggest you visit this link and then repeat the video ten times, because that will allow you to fully process what a mindfuck Loveless is to the uninitiated. )

The best introduction to Slowdive is probably their second album, Souvlaki.  Few albums perfectly capture the concept of “dreampop” like this one–there is an ethereal quality to the swirling guitars, but they don’t overpower the delicate hooks and melodies.  This is apparent from the very first track, “Alison”.

It captures the attention of the listener immediately, and gives a roadmap of what to expect from the rest of the album–layers and layers of echoed guitars with reverb to spare, a gentle melody, and those beautiful backing female vocals, all in a mid-tempo three-and-a-half minute pop song.  Another highlight is the haunting ballad “Dagger”.

The band strips down most of the effects and leaves a gently strummed down-tuned acoustic guitar, with suspended chords adding to the tension of the lyrics.  It is the quintessential melancholic 3 am song.

“Machine Gun” is another highlight, a ballad that features a great contrast between the vocals of Rachel Goswell for the verses and Neil Halstead for the chorus. I find that the song itself presents an interesting juxtaposition with its title, not only in style but in its lyrics as well, which focus on water-related imagery.

If you love what you’ve heard so far, then great news, there’s a strong chance you’ll love everything else in the Slowdive discography.  Their debut Just For A Day is stylistically similar to Souvlaki, though it doesn’t quite gel in the same way that the later album does, and suffers a bit from weaker production.  Pygmalion was a bit more of a stylistic shift, with some experimentation and an icier atmosphere, but is not a radical departure from the gorgeous Slowdive sound.  All of this should bode well in case we’re lucky enough to see a new album.

Welcome back, Slowdive.  You’ve been missed.

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