Friday, May 5, 2017

Slowdive - Slowdive Review

Shoegaze is timeless. It's a style of music so unlike that of its brethren, where textures both smooth and rugged collide in a rush of breathless noise. The nondescript nature of the infamous wall of sound poises Shoegaze to sound as fresh today as it did in the early 90's when it was all the rage. In other words, there's nothing caught in the lining to make it sound dated. The muffled instrumentation and lyrical mumbo jumbo prevent that. All it takes for a Shoegaze resurgence is another, long overdue, stunner of an album. For many, 2013's MBV was that time. And while I felt My Bloody Valentine's return was exemplary, expecting the same band to capture lighting in a bottle twice would've been a foolish expectation to make. Could Slowdive, forever My Bloody Valentine's second fiddle, accomplish the feat after returning from a 22-year absence with an audacious self-titled? Long story short; no. However, what Slowdive accomplishes is something aging bands typically scoff at; a succinct amalgamation of influence from past pioneers and current tastemakers. Slowdive is every bit enamored with their own past as they are with bands like The XX, DIIV, and Coldplay, excitement and boredom alike.

And yes, I said Coldplay. Before you get ahead of yourself, it's really only one song, and it really only sounds like 'Clocks' and 'Viva La Vida.' It just so happens though, that that one song is Slowdive's best. 'Star Roving,' the album's bombastic lead single stunned me on first listen, and continues to do so each successive one. It's Shoegaze had the fanatic's of Stadium Rock embraced the style for their myriad of crowds to enjoy. Each piece of fabric in the multi-layered epic is immaculately constructed, from the hell raising guitar riff, to the colossal percussion, to the virtuous vocals trapped in the fray. It's still hard to believe this was created in a studio, as each respective instrument feels untethered to the restraints imposed by a contained room. Even a stadium filled with hundreds of thousands would feel insignificant. 'Star Roving' is an apt title for the celestial gem. And while Slowdive never reaches that height again, a few other moments here certainly effort that boundless gaze. The clear example is the second half peak; 'No Longer Making Time.' Unlike 'Star Roving,' which never lets off the gas pedal, 'No Longer' balances the gas and break in unison, creating a smooth experience that relishes in controlled thrills, similar to Souvlaki's standout 'When The Sun Hits.'

However, Slowdive struggles to maintain interest as the LP progresses. If it wasn't for 'No Longer,' which lies at six in the tracklist, each successive track would continue to diminish in quality until the eight-minute slog that is 'Falling Ashes.' Given the 22-year absence, Slowdive's reemergence had to of been pertinent, as if the group finally had reason to join forces again. With 'Slomo,' the album's magnificent opener, that much seemed obvious. Heavenly chords strike off crescendoing walls of synths as chipper chants fly through the ether. The vocals, which give off an aura of delight, really lend to the weightlessness 'Slomo' presents. In some sense, it feels like essential Shoegaze, and along with 'Star Roving' make for a one-two punch that poises Slowdive as a modern day epic. Unfortunately, an unsureness over what can be deemed grand, spectacular, and visceral sets in around 'Sugar For The Pill.' It isn't noticeably bad, which is exactly the issue. Here, and on a few more efforts, Slowdive merge the crystalized minimalism of The xx with their own Ambient Pop work on 1995's Pygmalion, confusing the Shoegaze origins mightily.

To me, that's the primary downfall of Slowdive; it's lack of assuredness. Whereas their three primary albums, Just For A Day, Souvlaki, and Pygmalion, all had distinctive sounds that could be noted from a distance, the self-titled fuses each third, marginalizing the fine details in the process. It isn't entirely Shoegaze, nor Dream Pop, nor Ambient Pop, but a malformed collage of all three. This leads to a choose your own favorite-type album, where your personal Slowdive record will essentially decide which tracks you'll come away enjoying the most. For me, that's the bombast of sonically-arresting Shoegaze, where coherent sentences are at a premium since the rich and engrossing instrumentation comes first. What that description doesn't apply to is 'Falling Ashes,' a finale that tests my patience as Pygmalion does with each motionless moment. The two go hand-in-hand, as 'Falling Ashes' feeds off the hushed, wintry ambience of that album, causing Slowdive to sputter, losing any momentum it once held dearly. Don't get me wrong, the finale is beautiful, using space cleverly as the sole piano guides much of its direction, but it's just not a style suited for my restlessness. Not to mention the vocals are poorly sung, either the sole fluke or a reveal that the album's wall of sound cleverly masqueraded.

Qualms aside, for a 22-year absence from new, creative musicianship Slowdive did quite a commendable job. No, it's not on the level of MBV, an album that admittedly retraced the steps of the legendary Loveless, but brought with it a handful of crisp and unusual ideas. Really, Slowdive acts as a succinct summation of the group's three albums, like a taste test for younger generations to explore. You dig the dreamy bliss of 'Slomo' and 'Everyone Knows?' Just For A Day scratches that itch. The explosive saturation of 'Star Roving' and 'No Longer Making Time?' Souvlaki's massive hits are mandatory. And the unflappable calmness of 'Falling Ashes?' Pygmalion will serve you well. So while yes, Slowdive's admiration of the group's past may conflict those expecting something new, the perennial vigor and lust of Shoegaze makes it seem as if the self-titled immediately exists in the genre's undying ether. For better or worse, Slowdive could've been released a decade or two ago and no one would've batted an eyelash. Instead we receive it today, a fetching recollection of a genre once bountiful. Indecisiveness and a tendency to fawn over the superfluous shouldn't negate the album's intent of cherishing a time we could easily live again.

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