Patience was not a virtue in 1995. The number one song in America was “Creep”. Not a late-charting for Radiohead’s anthem, but the TLC song. Immediacy was omnipresent in radio… maybe not the best time for the vanishing shoegaze of Slowdive. Their most obscure record — an instant cult favorite, Pygmalion, spent none of its time looking at the ground, and all of its 49-minute runtime looking inside an all blue kaleidoscope. It owed more to Brian Eno’s ambient than Brian Jones’ psychedelia, alienating shoegaze fans and quickly becoming a catalyst for the premature end of the band. But trends are a capricious thing and indie pop ended up spending two decades catching up.
Like painting a picture of a sunrise and then waking up a month later to see it in the sky, Slowdive accidentally predicted the future. An eerily perfect landscape for their dormancy to end is here. The opening sixty seconds of their new self-titled record could easily be confused with a lost Beach House song until two minutes in when Neil Halstead’s voice reappears from hibernation worn and wiser. It wasn’t like he disappeared, he made three solo records and five (!) Mojave 3 records, but 2017 is the time resurrect the output of his cardinal project. Every social media post I saw from the band during their 2014 reunion tour had the tone of humble surprise at the teenagers humming their songs at festivals worldwide. But they weren’t just taking a victory lap, they were leading us here, the dream pop augmentation of the decade.
The premiere track “Slomo” is an almost seven-minute preface to the record. As if 22 years wasn’t long enough, the two-minute intro peaks curiosity before launching into its deliberate extensions of shoegaze, and breezy indie-pop. Breaking into our pre-release teaser “Star Roving”, a punchy quick five-minute single that feels like two. The opening duo is well sequenced, playing off of each others energy. “Don’t Know Why” plays at a higher bpm with a floating harmony and a smooth melody, when the full band pushes in, it just gets higher, like Willy Wonka’s fizzy lifting drinks — and there is no fan waiting to kill you.
The track progresses with 2017 production over a 1990’s progression. The hold out pause into the repeated intro halfway through the song isn’t a play Beach House or Grizzly Bear would make but the production keeps it grounded in now. Slowdive keeps one foot firmly planted in their 90’s heritage but the acquisition of Chris Coady on production is a win as he winterizes the record like it’s Victoria Legrand singing.
Slowdive shows that their core value is still what it was way back when. The patience to let chord progressions develop and surprise movements have their space, and patience to let simplistic patterns prove strong. The guitar hook on “Sugar For the Pill” is deceptively simple and surprisingly catchy. Halstead’s emotional melody underneath rotates slowly. Ingredients this simple shouldn’t add up to all they do, but the sum is greater than the parts here. Like eating the perfect steak and drinking the perfect Coca-Cola, “Sugar” plays its clarity and doesn’t over-complicate, Halstead is 15 again writing plain and powerful. Few bands can make the turn from pleasant to intense as quickly and purposefully as Slowdive.
“Everyone Knows” piles on with a noisy collapse, like Samson pulling down the pillars of sound on top of itself. The fifty-four-second outro never loses any steam, just pulsing on, it could have continued for 10 minutes without complaint. “No Longer Making Time” pops into its chorus like it’s going for radio, the guitar piercing like it’s trying to get ahead of the rhythm but never losing synchronicity. The band never falls into self-parody, their noise instincts are too intact from two decades of hibernation. Right when the song sounds like it will kick in for one last chorus, it sputters out, echoing the band’s own faulty trajectory in 1995.
“Go Get It” shows a side of hardness like a teenager lifting up his tank top to reveal a pocketknife peaking out the top of his jeans. Its chorus wrecks any beauty remaining from the verse as the multiple guitars continuously assault. “Falling Ashes” proves to be the records only misstep, not quite living up to its cinematic intro. The key line is all Max Richter, but its repetition proves to be more Chris Martin than classic Halstead tension. Most of the record’s lyrics are intentionally obscured in a Justin Vernon way, but “Falling” has the plainest spoken moments and “Thinking about love” is much too Eric Clapton of a refrain to strike an emotional chord. Especially when the pounding noise symphonies have already broken the emotional strings. Seven songs and 38 minutes probably didn’t seem like enough but leaving the ultimate track off would have been an overall improvement. Or perhaps a moving ambient stretch to hearken back to the underrated Pygmalion.
Whatever band you most hope reunites, you can only hope they do it like Slowdive. Not rushed, not cash-grabbing, but focused on relationships and on furthering the legacy of the band. If a person asks how to get into Slowdive, the correct answer is still to start with Souvlaki but Slowdive wouldn’t be a bad second choice. B PLUS