shoegaze

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 30 Edition)

A few non-spooky #longreads for your (one-hour longer) weekend…

Thankfully, we have not seen any Halloween-related “thinkpieces”, so we can go straight to some links worthy of your time.  First, Maynard James Keenan sat down for an extensive interview with the Phoenix New Times, and the article features Maynard talking at length about several topics with his typical humor.  Maynard is preparing for the release of Puscifer’s new album, Money Shot, though of course it was his talk about one of his other bands that drew most of the attention, as anything that mentions “Tool” is sure to garner clicks.

Pitchfork has a piece on the 25th anniversary of Ride’s Nowhere, one of the biggest and most important albums of the shoegaze era, and discusses how the genre has played a part in shaping the sound of a numbers.  This week also marks the twentieth anniversary of Pulp’s brilliant album Common People, and Stereogum pays tribute to the landmark record.

Finally, Consequence of Sound attempts to settle the age-old debate of “Which is the best Replacements album: Let It Be or Tim?”  They take their time in analyzing the merits of the two legendary albums, but in the end come up with the correct result.

Review: Deafheaven – New Bermuda

Now this is how you follow up a masterpiece.  With New Bermuda, Deafheaven have matched the brilliance of their universally-beloved album Sunbather, and have created another record filled with thrilling, triumphant climaxes and breathtakingly gorgeous moments that show the power and diversity of metal as a genre.  New Bermuda works both as a cohesive whole as well as five fantastic individual tracks, as each listen prompts me to proclaim a new track as my definitive favorite.

To answer the first question that is on every non-metalhead’s mind when it comes to Deafheaven: yes, George Clarke still employs that banshee-yelling technique on every song.  In fact, the vocals are a bit more prominent in the mix than they were on Sunbather, but they might be an even better fit with the accompanying music on New Bermuda.  At the same time, while Clarke’s delivery is as harsh as ever, his “diction” has become clearer, with individual phrases easier to parse than before–to this day, the only phrase I can pick out from Sunbather is the line “I want to dream” from “Dream House”, and that was only after several listens and a careful look at the lyric sheet.  In other words, those turned off by this facet of Deafheaven’s sound are unlikely to be converted with New Bermuda, but those who appreciate/have made peace with it will have no problem.

While there are still several moments where Deafheaven incorporates elements of shoegaze into their black metal style, New Bermuda finds the band adding more concepts from traditional metal into their songs.  Whereas Sunbather was characterized by brick walls of guitars creating dense chords with shifting, underlying melodies, New Bermuda often focuses more on riff-based songwriting and single-note solos.  In terms of the tone and complexity of these riffs, the band finds a spot where early-Metallica and late-System of a Down meet, evoking Leviathan-era Mastodon as well with their furious churning nature.  In addition to the fantastic work from guitarist Kerry McCoy, who adds a wah-inflected solo and subtle slidework to his repertoire, drummer Dan Tracy shines once again with his furious but precise work behind the kit, alternating between blastbeats and more subtle grooves.

The post-rock interludes that distinguished Sunbather from other metal records are now integrated into the songs themselves, as they often dissolve into beautiful instrumental passages marked by guitars drenched in reverb and delay (among other effects) atop subtle, rolling drums.  These moments go beyond the usual Explosions in the Sky comparisons and recall some of the more lyrical moments of Slowdive, an intersection of post-rock and shoegaze that is especially evident in the outro to “Come Back”.  There is only one noticeable Godspeed-like field recording this time, a brief and cryptic snippet of a traffic announcement warning about the closure of the George Washington Bridge.

There is no single moment that approaches transcendence, as they were able to accomplish with “Dream House” and “The Pecan Tree” on Sunbather, but New Bermuda as an album is every bit as equal.  It is crazy that this is as close to criticism as I can get for this record, but New Bermuda is that much of an accomplishment.  Deafheaven have now firmly established themselves as one of the most important groups of the current era, and have laid the groundwork for a long and fruitful career.

Review: Vaadat Charigim – Sinking As A Stone

We are slowly beginning to see a revival of the shoegaze genre, though to this point it was only members of the original movement that were bringing back the swirling guitars and lush soundscapes.  Legendary pioneers My Bloody Valentine began the charge with their release of m b v, the long-awaited follow-up to the classic Loveless, followed by the triumphant return of Slowdive, and continuing this year with a brand new album from Swervedriver and a newly-reunited Ride.  There have been several acts that have incorporated elements of shoegaze into their own sound since the genre’s heyday, but few bands fully embraced the style.  We had to look halfway around the world, but it is safe to say we finally found such a group with Israel’s Vaadat Charigim.

Unlike Nothing, which incorporated elements of metal into their version of shoegaze, Vaadat Charigim’s sound is a more direct descendant of the genre’s original practitioners.  Vaadat Charigim’s closest counterpart is Slowdive, as they emphasize melody and ethereal guitars on Sinking as a Stone, though propulsive drums reminiscent of Ride poke through the mix at key moments, like on the single “Ein Li Makom”.  Like other shoegaze albums, it is nearly impossible to listen to Sinking as a Stone at too high a volume, allowing for a more pleasurable experience as one searches through the haze and picks various details from the wall of sound; Sinking also benefits from modern recording techniques and mastering, so it is not as much of a chore to sift through the music as it was back in the 90’s.

Vaadat Charigim sings exclusively in their native language of Hebrew, so lyrical content will not be a primary concern for most American listeners.  Instead, most will be focused on the lush music marked by dreamy textures, with the vocals fitting in perfectly as an additional instrument to the mix.  The fact that the group can create such intricate and dense soundscapes with only three people is astounding.  For the most part, the band keeps the ambiance relatively light, allowing the listener to get lost in the music, but closer “Hashiamum Shokea” shows what the band can do when it adds in a bit of distortion.

It may be a difficult task to actually get your hands on this album (we had to wait several weeks for Amazon to ship it, and they had a limited supply to begin with), but it is easily worth the effort.  There will be few experiences as pleasurable as spending around forty-five minutes getting lost in Vaddat Charigim’s elaborately cultivated soundscapes.

Over the Weekend (Feb. 23 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as you prepare for when the revolution comes

Holy shit guys, we’re actually going to get a new Blur record!  Damon Albarn has apparently found some time in between his three hundred musical projects to record an album with his old mates, as The Magic Whip will be released here in the States on April 28.  As an appetizer, here’s the bizarre lyric video for the weird new song “Go Out”.

Normally, we would have this new video occupy our lead spot–after all, it includes not only a song from one of the best albums of the year so far, but also features some of our favorite television characters as well.  However, it’s not everyday that Blur announces a new album, so the Bob’s Burgers-themed video for Sleater-Kinney’s “A New Wave” gets the second slot, but it should make you happy nonetheless.

NPR has a couple of new albums streaming on their site that are worth sharing: first, Swervedriver returns for their first record in nearly twenty years with I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, and then there’s Of Montreal offering up Aureate Gloom for your pleasure.

Father John Misty stopped by The Strombo Show, and during that appearance he covered the Leonard Cohen classic “Bird on the Wire”.  It’s a bit jarring at first to hear the song without Cohen’s trademark baritone, but Joshua Tillman still makes a fine version.

Death Cab For Cutie have shared another new track from Kintsugi, which will be out by the end of March, called “No Room in Frame”.

Vox takes a look at Eric Malmi’s attempt to determine the Best Rapper Alive by looking at the use of assonant rhyme.  As with most data-intensive looks at creative endeavors, take it with a grain of salt.

And finally, have some fun as the satirical website Clickhole asks the question “How Well Do You Know The Lyrics to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’?” with their ridiculous quiz.

Slowdive, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

Rust Is Just Right and Slowdive have a bit of a shared history, as our first story was an article discussing their surprise reunion earlier this year.  At the time, we were unsure whether the reunification was a one-off deal, but luckily the band would not only launch a tour, but they would stop by our corner of the world here in Oregon.  Considering we were too young to catch them during their initial heyday, we jumped at the opportunity to see the shoegaze legends live.  As they proved Wednesday night, The Jesus And Mary Chain may have created the genre and My Bloody Valentine created its masterpiece, it was Slowdive that perfected the craft.

Slowdive up in lights.

Slowdive up in lights.

Just seeing the headliners would have been enough of a treat, but we were blessed with the additional bonus of Low opening up the show.  Low is definitely a band worthy of its own headlining tour (though they may not be playing in venues as large as the Crystal), but when given an invitation from icons like Slowdive, you take that gig in a heartbeat.  As such, we tried to get in as close to the start of the show as possible, and despite a slight delay at the Will Call office due to some confusion with the customers in front of us, we were able to arrive as their first song faded and “Plastic Cup” began.  This started a run of songs from their overlooked recent album The Invisible Way that the crowd ate up, leading me to suspect that there may have been more than a few people who bought tickets to the show on the strength of the opener alone.  Low stuck with some of their heavier, more bombastic material, like “Monkey” and the sublime “Dinosaur Act”, which elicited cheers from the crowd as soon as the first hints of its melody drifted through the venue.  The band finished up a tight set to thunderous applause, leaving the crowd wanting more, even though we were eagerly anticipating the headliners.

The interstitial music coming over the PA featured some inspired choices like The Shins’ “Caring Is Creepy” and Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You”, which kept the audience in a suitably relaxed mood before the main act arrived.  But even though we were prepared for an evening of gorgeous, dreamy music, that didn’t stop us from providing a rapturous welcome to Slowdive as they walked onto the stage.  The band kicked the show off with some of their earliest songs, from the Slowdive EP, with the guitars swirling and Rachel Goswell’s and Neil Halstead’s vocals floating in and above the haze in a gorgeous, dreamlike state.  Though those components are the hallmarks of the Slowdive aesthetic, in the live setting you get a full appreciation for Simon Scott’s drums, which not only provided a necessary tether to the ethereal songs, but also provided some brilliant beats in and of themselves.  His contributions tend to go unnoticed on record, but they formed an integral part of the performance.

A glimpse of the psychedelic set

A glimpse of the psychedelic set

The early results were pleasing, but the band hit another level with “Catch the Breeze” from Just For A Day, with an exhilarating climax propelled by Scott’s thunderous drums enhanced by a delirious strobe effect, in perhaps the most effective use of the trick I’ve ever seen.  It was this moment that confirmed that as wonderful as their albums are, it’s no comparison to Slowdive’s live show.  Highlights included favorites from their classic Souvlaki like “Machine Gun” and “Alison”, which strangely enough were the only songs introduced by the band even though they rank as among the most recognizable.  With all the pure noise generated from the several guitars over the course of most of the set, it made the delicate and sublime “Dagger” stand out even more, as all the reverbs, delays, wahs, filters, and phasers were stripped away for the mournful ballad, backed by a light setup that focused on various bulbs that enhanced the somber overtones of the song.  Considering the respectful silence that greeted the song, I may have been a bit too excited in unleashing a “whoo” as soon as I heard its opening chords, but dammit I was happy to hear one of my favorite songs played live for the first time.

Setlist from an amazing show.

Setlist from an amazing show.

It was an amazing experience from beginning-to-end, and hopefully it inspires the group to continue–whether it be with new music, re-releasing out-of-print albums, remastering their old material (while we’re generally not in favor of the “loudness wars”, the Slowdive back-catalog would benefit greatly from a volume-boost), or just launching more tours.  Because as I said after the show, Slowdive live was even more beautiful than I imagined.

Review: The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

There were high expectations for the latest album from The War on Drugs as they followed up their breakthrough Slave Ambient, a fixture of many 2011 year-end lists.  It’s safe to say that not only has the band met the challenge with Lost In The Dream, but they’ve exceeded even the most ambitious projections.  The band has further honed their distinct style of 80’s Americana pitched through the hazy lens of shoegaze, finding even more common ground between what had seemed to be two unconnected genres.  The combination helps make Lost In The Dream simultaneously one of the most comforting and thrilling releases of the year.

The exciting lead single “Red Eyes”  gave us a clue as to the direction of the album, with the punch of an upbeat rocker that is reminiscent of Slave Ambient highlight “Baby Missiles”.  Instead of keeping the intensity at 11 for the duration of the song though, the song slowly builds and builds, gradually adding layers and volume; the performance is captured so well that the listener can feel it down to each and every snare hit.  On Slave Ambient, “Baby Missiles” served as the climax for the whole album–the band shuffled between shimmery ambient melodies and reverb-soaked folk before coalescing into the big kick of that single.  The War On Drugs took the template of the album and applied it to each song on Lost In The Dream, giving the album a forward propulsion even amid the natural emotional ebb and flow.  This skill allows the band to indulge in longer songs without ever losing momentum.  Opener “Under the Pressure” is a perfect example of this, which even though it runs nearly nine minutes long, it keeps the listener’s attention the whole time.

With their previous work, The War On Drugs were eager to explore dreamier soundscapes, which while pleasant, gave some of their work an unfocused aspect that allowed the listener’s attention to drift before a more fully-formed song would appear from the haze.  With Lost In The Dream, the band has moved into a much more song-based approach (save the instrumental interlude “The Haunting Idle”).  One may attribute this shift perhaps to the absence of Kurt Vile; one can almost sense a split in the identity since that album, as Vile has continued to mine that vein in his subsequent solo work.  It’s not a drastic difference–the trademark style of The War On Drugs is definitely still evident.  There is still a heavy dose of reverb-soaked guitars and vocals, with synth lines that thicken up folk-tinged rock songs that don’t rework old Springsteen and Tom Petty, but captures their spirit.  One can even hear the influence of Bob Seger, right down to the title, in “Eyes to the Wind”.

Throughout the course of the album, the band displays an incredible knack of building complex songs and evoking strong emotions from simple elements.  Most songs are built on the basic rock beat with an emphasis on the 2 and 4 by the snare, with only slight deviations from that formula (for example, the added delay/reverb effect added to the kick and snare on “Disappearing”).  It seems that the band took Homer’s advice of “Why have burger when you can have steak?” to heart, since they know that the beat gets the job done–it forever moves the song forward, pushing the listener’s anticipation into the next phrase.  They manage to keep this repetition from getting stale mostly through the use of dynamics, enhancing the natural push of the rhythm and allowing the song to build organically.  “An Ocean In Between The Waves” is a perfect example of this, and one can imagine how the crowd will eat it up when they hear it live.

It’s amazing how organic the album sounds, as if it was done by a band recording live, when it was actually mainly a solo record.  Stereogum has an excellent behind the scenes look at the making of the album, which is definitely worth reading.  There was an incredible amount of effort that went into the making of Lost In The Dream, and it paid off with what is surely one of the best albums of the year.

Review: Nothing – Guilty of Everything

Metal is a genre that strangely enough, considering its dynamics and intensity, can lend itself to stagnancy and inertia.  The problem is that sometimes no matter how theatrical and ferocious (or if you’re so inclined, fast and furious), it ends up just an echo of the same tricks that you’ve heard numerous times before.  It’s the kind of feeling you might be familiar with after watching generic summer blockbusters year after year.  The mere act of showing an explosion on a screen is not enough to sustain even passing interest for some people (for fuck’s sake, Michael Bay–how could you make giant robots fighting each other so boring?!).

So when a band uses Metal not as an endpoint, but as a pivot into a new direction, I’ll take notice.  Guilty of Everything, the debut album of Nothing, does exactly that.  Nothing combines the power and heaviness of metal with the vocals and lush textures of shoegaze.  Yes, you read that correctly.  True, other bands have been able to mix loud and soft dynamics, intertwining gorgeous vocals with thundering guitars and crashing drums before Nothing, but not necessarily to this extent.  The Deftones have made a career of this, and thankfully have seemed to have influenced a new generation of bands.

Deafheaven received a lot of deserved acclaim last year by mixing black metal with elements of shoegaze and post-rock, and Nothing follows a similar approach, though perhaps working in reverse.  The vocals are incomprehensible on both albums, but while Deafheaven goes in the loud direction with shrieks and howls, Nothing relies on the traditional shoegaze style of  breathy vocals buried within the haze of guitars.  The tempos and drumbeats on Guilty of Everything also are more in line with traditional shoegaze and rock, though I advise against making any assumptions based purely on that description.  In one of the best moments on the album, Nothing recalls the epic breakdown from the Sigur Rós song “Popplagið”, as the drums go nuts underneath a gorgeous wall of guitars in the last two minutes of “B&E”.

The mixture between metal and shoegaze doesn’t always work, but when it does, like in “Somersault” and the title track, Nothing produces some of the most gorgeous music you’ll hear this year.  The heaviness of the guitars combined with the whispery vocals that despite the inherent tension have an almost intoxicating effect, and it’s amazing that instead of working against each other that they blend so seamlessly.  And while you’re enjoying the music, it’s worth reading up on the unusual story of the band.

Sophomore Slump or Underrated Gems? Yuck and Cults

In recent years I developed a scientific but informal method to determining the best albums of the year.  It’s scientific in its attempt at objectivity (number of plays over the year), but informal in that the order was only for the purpose of guiding friends as to which albums they would get the most bang for their back.  For the year of 2011, this process determined that the self-titled debut of Cults was the fourth-best album of the year, while Yuck’s album (coincidentally enough, also a self-titled debut) took the crown at number one.  Since then, I can honestly say those assessments hold up, since I continue to listen to those albums on a regular basis (in fact, if I re-ranked the list, I’d bump Cults up into the number two slot, close behind Yuck (sorry Girls and The Antlers)).

Is there a reason to pair these bands together, besides future narrative convenience?  In a way, probably.  As has been the case for most rock bands for over a decade now, both of these bands took their major inspirations from the past and offered their own reinterpretations of their favorite old bands.  If you want to be mean, you could say the urge was not to push boundaries and create new genres, but to affirm a love of the old sounds that they had heard before, and hey what do you know, let’s try to do the same things ourselves.  I myself don’t want to be mean, so don’t pin that accusation on me (others, however, have no problem whatsoever with this approach and react in a way that makes you want to ask if there’s anything you can do to console them, because it seems as if somebody in the band ran over their dog (possibly on multiple occasions)).

What distinguished Yuck and Cults from their colleagues was the era of their particular nostalgia.  While several bands trafficked in 80’s revivalism (from post-punk to top-40 sounds) or hearkened back to 70’s arena rock, Yuck and Cults chose different routes: early-90s guitar-rock for Yuck and 60’s-era pop for Cults.  After years of call-backs to Joy Division, Gang of Four, or God forbid, Led Zeppelin, critics at least would have a different set of bands to name-drop in describing each group’s sound (well, Dinosaur Jr. at the very least–that was the one that got the most references from what I’ve read for Yuck; I never saw too many specifics for Cults).  But reminding me of some of my favorite bands only gets you so far; I was more than anything impressed with the execution of each band.

Take “Get Away”, the track that kicks off the Yuck album: the super-fuzzed-out rhythm guitar instantly catches your attention, and then the delicious lead guitar line, both in terms of melody and tone, kicks in through the mix with a circular riff that matches the song’s theme.  But it’s the little moments that add up that make me truly appreciate the song:  the excellent use of feedback as lead parts in the second verse, a post-chorus that truly builds on the chorus and leads perfectly back to the verse, and a bridge where everything drops out but a bassline reminiscent of the Pixies before everyone jumps back in for one last go-around.  It’s early 90’s alternative done with an ear for perfect songcraft, and the only thing that’s infuriating is that the band members are even younger than I am.

For Cults, the comparisons are more general: the sunny nature of Madeline Follin’s vocals and the bright happy melodies do a lot to evoke an air of nostalgia, and bring to mind memories of Phil Spector and old-time girl groups like The Ronettes.  It takes a lot to make this style seem like more than a gimmick, and over the course of an album Cults managed to do this successfully.  There are subtle modern touches that provide enough of a twist to capture your attention, especially with the drum programming, and the seemingly carefree vocals mask lyrics that are more melancholic than expected.  And I have to love a band that’s willing to do not only music videos, but videos that can be best described as “the director decided to get stoned and watch Lost Highway, and oh yeah, let’s make it a bizarre love story too”.

It’s easy then to imagine the excitement I felt when I learned that these two bands would be releasing new albums in 2013.  I was excited to see what new influences the bands were willing to explore, or if they decided to stick with their old formula, that frankly sounded fine as well–it was a win-win as far as I was concerned.  But soon after the announcements of the new albums, bad news followed: Yuck announced that lead singer Daniel Blumberg had left the band (and would record an album as Hebronix), and Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin had broken up as a couple, but in both cases, new albums were going to be released anyway.  This was just the kind of news that makes a fan more than a bit wary of what could possibly be released, or worry that there would even be a release at all.

Each banded handled the turmoil in different ways: Cults agreed to several interviews detailing the process of making their new album and providing further background of the romantic-but-not-band breakup, and Yuck just started releasing music.  The first single after Blumberg’s departure that Yuck released was “Rebirth”, which is just too on-the-nose to not be something that was planned.  It did signal a new influence for the band, as they seemingly had decided to switch their focus from American alternative-rock to British shoegaze, and it seemed that the band had internalized the latter style as well as they had the former on their debut.  In a normal year, I would have said that “Rebirth” was the best My Bloody Valentine song released that year; since hell froze over and My Bloody Valentine actually released a new album last year, I would revise my statement and say it was the third or fourth-best MBV song of the year.

The Cults approach worked too, because at least with continued engagement with the press indicated that a follow-up was not a tossed-off effort, and that they were committed to continuing the band.  And their choice of a teaser single took the opposite approach of Yuck: from a stylistic perspective, “I Can Hardly Make You Mine” would fit right in at just about any point in the track-listing of Cults, though there were some subtle differences in the instrumentation that pointed to some growth (synths that were higher up in the mix, a more dominant guitar part, and livelier drumming all pointed to exciting possible new directions for the album).

With these songs, optimism began to build up once again, and I gladly purchased Glow and Behold and Static as soon as they were released.  I then went through my usual ritual, ripping the CD and importing the tracks onto my iPod (to be played during the next workout), and then putting the physical discs in my car (to be played on my next drive).  And just as was the case with their debuts, my reaction to each album was that of near-instant love.   Now here we are a few months later and both albums remain in my car as part of the regular rotation, and when I write up my review of the best albums of 2013, both albums should have a place on the list.

But apparently I’m in the minority with this opinion (well, a minority of a minority–we’re talking about indie bands that are somewhat obscure even by indie rock standards).  While Static actually has a similar Metacritic score to Cults, it failed to generate as much press or buzz, and failed to appear on year-end lists at the same rate that I remembered that their debut did.  And there was a huge nosedive in critical appreciation of Glow and Behold as opposed to Yuck.  Another bad sign was the lack of local promotion for either of their shows in Portland, which is pretty amazing considering that the backstories for each album should be a hook for both critics and their subsequent audience.  The articles practically wrote themselves.

At least with some critics, it appeared that some were unwilling to let go of the past.  This is especially evident in AllMusic’s review of Glow and Behold, which can’t seem to accept the fact that the band decided to continue without Blumberg, and subsequently would not sound the exact same.  It may be just that I personally found the increased emphasis on shoegaze to be a more interesting route to take than an attempt to ape Blumberg’s whine, or that I had fonder memories of Teenage Fanclub than others (when Yuck first came out, I remarked that it seemed like they were the one band that learned that Bandwagonesque was SPIN’s album of the year over Nevermind and seemed to agree with the result; the Teenage Fanclub influence was even more pronounced on Glow and Behold, with the album’s more focus on brighter melodies and cleaner guitars).  It was the same case with the more negative reviews of Static, though in a way in reverse: reviews would say how there was little deviation from the first album, when there was an entire two-thirds of the album that had a darker mood and more challenging instrumentation than anything on the debut.

So it’s clear what my answer to the title question is, and for what it’s worth, the few of my friends that care about this sort of thing tend to agree.  I’m fine with enjoying great songs like “We’ve Got It” and “Middle Sea” (a song that would be near the top of my list of best singles of the year) on my own, but I just hope that we won’t end up seeing more great bands like these two get caught up in the downswing of the hype-cycle, despite continuing to produce great music, as we’ve seen plenty of times before.  In other words, when album number three comes out, I’ll be there.

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.