Album Review: Slowdive release their first in 22 years

by Amy Marie Slocum

Photo: Ingrid Pop

Photo: Ingrid Pop

The release of Slowdive’s Slowdive tomorrow will mark a day most thought would never come. With it, the evocation of one of the most polarizing indie bands of the last quarter century. Polarizing because shoegaze has long run the gamut from denigration to appreciation, and Slowdive’s new album is sure to arouse feedback from both ends of the spectrum.

Nothing on the new album is as haunting as old gems like “Sing” from Souvlaki (wrought from their brief encounter with Brian Eno), nor is anything as essential as the single “Slowdive,” from the band’s 1990 self-titled EP (an ambitious little 45 with a mere three tracks).

Transmissions from deep space are at work in this reunion – inner as much as outer – but if you’re looking for some new shoegaze swerve, you’ll be disappointed. The album proves consistent not exploratory, and unapologetically so. Judging by its self-referential tag, what we’re getting is Slowdive, pure and simple, not some reinvention.

Though there are only eight tracks, the shortest one comes in at 4:22. These songs never seem to know when to quit. Repeatable singles “Star Roving,” “Sugar For The Pill,” and “No Longer Making Time” arise as melodic beacons out of the droning sea of chill-noise refrain. Neil Halstead offers voice to the amalgamation, but Rachel Goswell’s melodies give it the splotches of color and depth they always have. Is the LP’s polished pop sheen going to win people over, or incite a new generation of sardonic haters?

I don’t put it past the trolls of modernity to drag Slowdive up and down Twitter threads, but nothing would really be like the obloquy they faced from the likes of NME and Melody Maker in the biting days of the early '90s. How there was so much animosity toward such a wimpy band strikes me as nothing less than amusing.

Most reviews so far seem glowing. As seasoned veterans, having taken a few punches from life itself in the interim (particularly Goswell), the band’s members have attained a perspective they didn’t have at 18. Their dreampop bubble has been rendered impervious to anyone tossing shoegaze around as a pejorative.

An exercise in good ‘ol white detachment? Maybe, though I don’t think it takes away from Slowdive’s introspection. Maybe I’m just not harsh enough. Maybe I’m not much of a critic. Aren’t the opinions of critics historically the least reliable anyway? Or maybe – uh oh – this review is just as whitely detached as Slowdive’s new album.

Regardless, I’m not going to undercut the obvious fact that they have something to say. A band with no real intention of ever getting back together again makes an uncompromising album after twenty-two years. That’s hardly cashing in. Three out of the five Spice Girls having a reunion tour in 2017 is cashing in.

Slowdive is vanguard shoegazers doing what shoegazers do. Does it challenge the standardized consciousness imposed by corporate enterprise? Not really. Does it reinforce it? Not with a label like Dead Oceans (which is good enough for Bleached, so it should be good enough for anyone).

The folk/goth roots, influential to bands like The Silversun Pickups or The xx, haven’t gone anywhere. Though I can’t help but wonder if, in 2017, Slowdive would be opening for bands like The Silversun Pickups or The xx. What’s infuriating is that they seem humble enough not to mind. They’re plenty content employing new-and-improved, 21st century pedal boards. The band’s penchant for homogeneously blending into one another’s sound hasn’t gone anywhere either. Apart from the singles, most of the new tracks do no more than melt into life’s background. And while the new endeavor is nowhere near as tragic as their last (the self-involved swansong that is Pygmalion), I for one prefer maniacal effect trips to lackadaisical ones.

Take Sonic Youth, one of the biggest influences on shoegaze and grunge alike. Whereas shoegazers tend to be motionless, deemphasizing stage presence, Sonic Youth made audiences gawk at the way they butchered their instruments with screwdrivers. With Slowdive, there’s no serrated edge, no sock-it-to-me guitar alchemy akin to “Expressway to Yr Skull.”

Suffice to say I’m not rushing to see a live show anytime soon. But I also won’t be skipping the songs when they pop up on shuffle either.

Their ambivalence makes me ambivalent. For good or ill, we’re offered tunes to zone out to, and, let’s face it, with our fried nerves, we could all use as much zoning out these days as we can get. Perhaps there’s some wisdom in the band’s newfound airy front – obscured under the waves of reverb – as exhibited in the mesmeric “Falling Ashes.” Slowdive is what the first humans trekking to Mars will listen to while floating in the cold, dark expanse to keep from coming totally unhinged. Similarly, I envision drunken, poolside youths blaring “Don’t Know Why” face-down on a shoddy chaise lounge trying to get by in this ungodly Southern California heat.

At the end of the day, Slowdive is just having fun. And staying true to shoegaze polarization, this reunion will both piss off and rouse.

Written by Brent Smith