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SWIRL & SHINE: New Slowdive album features UK band doing what they do best

Dead Oceans
"Slowdive" is the British band's first album in 22 years.
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ALBUM REVIEW: Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans) 2017

Don’t you relish those moments when you run into an old friend you haven’t seen in years and when you sit down to catch up, it’s as if no time had passed at all.

That’s how it felt when I first listened to Slowdive’s self-titled record, their first in 22 years, following the release of Pygmalion and their subsequent dismissal by longtime label Creation Records.

The Reading, England-based quintet – Neil Halstead (vocals,guitar, keyboards); Rachel Goswell (vocals, guitar, tambourine); Christian Savill (guitars); Nick Chaplin (bass); and Simon Scott (drums) – were among my top shoegaze bands back in the early-to-mid 1990’s.

1991’s Just For a Day, promoted as being “like a mind-altering substance, without the risk,” was hypnotically dreamy, swirly and beautiful in a melancholy sort of way. Very English, in that respect.

Just For a Day tracks “Celia’s Dream, “Catch the Breeze” and “Erik’s Song,” along with “Machine Gun,” from Souvlaki (1993) took me to other places in my mind, back when shoegaze was appreciated – right before the advent of Blair-ist Britpop and all the baggage that came with it. By ’95, shoegaze was essentially over.

But over the past two decades or so, shoegaze did not lose its appeal. I think I realized this back  in early 2016, when Cherry Red Records released an absolutely essential five-disc set called Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze 1998-1995.  It’s there that Slowdive’s 1990 track, “Slowdive” (from their debut EP) is included, amongst amazing tracks by everyone from The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Telescopes to Spiritualized and Catherine Wheel.

I really think that the success and depth of the Still in a Dream collection helped Halstead and Goswell – the most visible members of Slowdive – to give this recording a shot. And thanks to the Dead Oceans record label, fans of Slowdive and shoegaze got to hear this amazing band once more (and there seems to be a trend, as Ride, The Telescopes and other bands of that era are recording new material).

So what of the new material from the five original members of Slowdive?

Well, with the atmospheric keyboards and guitar providing a cottony bed of rapturous sound on album opener “Slomo,” drummer Simon Scott is placed up front, but not in an ostentatious way. Scott stays in sync with the magical sounds being created, like sounds picked up by a lost satellite roaming the galaxy.

Yes, it’s good. It’s that good. And it’s only the beginning. Slowdive is back!

“Star Roving” continues the inner/outer musical journey with Christian Savill and Neil Halstead’s (who takes lead vocal) confident guitars taking us on a Pink Floyd-styled trip, but remaining clearly a Slowdive-orchestrated adventure.

But for me, it’s the Goswell-led songs that take me light years from Earth. As on “Don’t Know Why,” which also includes a co-vocal from Halstead, where the guitars pull us away from wherever we are, into a gossamer-like dreamland that seems oh-so-familiar.

“Sugar for the Pill” leaves a bittersweet aftertaste that stays with you. And this leads us to the emotionally extravagant “Everyone Knows” that has a time machine quality, taking the listener back to 1992, when this sort of sound was thoroughly loved and appreciated. It sooo captures tha time (and I love Goswell’s tambourine shaking at the end).

The more minimalist “No Long Making Time” has a live-in-the-studio feel, with Savill's minor-note guitar leads (as he looks down at his ocean of pedals) helping us along - right there with Scott's snappy snare - and it building up to a big, musical payoff. 

Slowdive is not a one-note band. They have a lot of musical ideas to share on this eight-track comeback album. "Go Get It" - "I want to see it!" sings Halstead, followed by "I want to feel it!" from Goswell. As you or Ziggy Stardust or whomever gazes out toward the Horsehead Nebula of your mind. It's a psychdelic trip, man! Come aboard!

The final song, "Falling Ashes," with it's sad piano and haunting co-vocal from Halstead and Goswell, with their repeated line "Thinking about love ..." 

And in a bit of synchromystic bliss, as I write this review, NASA's Cassini spacecraft plunged into the mysterious, ringed planet of Saturn, sending out its final transmission today - after 20 years in space. The music of Slowdive would have provided the perfect soundtrack for that "ultimate trip." 

And for fans here in Oklahoma, Slowdive is touring North America this fall, with the closest stops being in Denver on Nov. 1st and in Kansas City on Nov. 3rd.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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