Slowdive- everything is alive (Album Review)

Sept. 1, 2023


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Shoegaze occupied a significant portion of the alternative rock landscape for the first five to six years of the 1990s, but as popular taste started to shift as the decade continued a lot of the bigger names in the genre faded away.  It wouldn’t be until almost two decades later that many of these bands would reform and release new material among renewed interest from a new generation of listeners, with My Bloody Valentine kicking things off in 2013.  Four years later both Ride and Slowdive dropped new albums after periods of touring, with the latter going the self-titled route and offering a mix of lush shoegaze and dream pop that had hooks just as strong as anything else in their discography.  For years it was unclear if this Slowdive reunion had been a lightning in a bottle moment and there wouldn’t be any new material after that point, but fast forward six years and the group has now released their second post-reformation album.  Originally started by vocalist/guitarist Neil Halsted as a sparser electronic record intended to be released as a solo effort in 2020, everything is alive has evolved over time into a full band effort.  Fusing together that original concept with the layers of guitar melodies and pop hooks Slowdive is known for, everything is alive is a more subdued effort than its predecessor but still manages to stick with you in familiar and new ways.

The first taste of everything is alive came in the form of “kisses” back in June, and it immediately had fans wondering where Slowdive was heading on this album.  Airier synths gave way to a more upbeat melody and some of the most direct pop hooks the band had offered in some time, with layers of guitars dancing over top of a very danceable beat.  There had been these more upbeat moments on past Slowdive albums, but this one showed the group at their poppiest and had an infectious quality to it.  As it turns out, “kisses” is a pretty significant outlier on the album and the majority of the songs opt for a more subdued and reflective tone.  Opener “shanty” sets the stage with a looping synth that sounds more like krautrock or an older sci-fi soundtrack, and as it expands outwards layers of guitar ebb and flow over top of a repeating rhythm.  There are ideas that stick with you on a song like this, but it’s a bit more abstract than some of the group’s other work and may take a few listens to fully get a feel for.  As you maker your way through the rest of everything is alive this change in sound continues, as “prayer remembered” has a methodical, almost post rock type build-up, while “andalucia plays” explores softer, muted textures in an almost drone meets shoegaze kind of way.  “chained to a cloud” and “the slab” are two of my favorite songs from the album, as they take the repeating rhythms and synth loops established on “shanty” and push them outwards into sprawling, moody atmospheric arrangements that have equal amounts of bright and dark tonality.  “the slab” in particular impresses with its immense sound that fully washes over you, giving a post rock film score meets shoegaze vibe that is both haunting and beautiful.  The only track I’m not as crazy about is “skin in the game”, which has the type of layered shoegaze Slowdive is known for but it feels a bit too loose and meandering and doesn’t quite stand out amongst the rest of the material.  Compared to an album like Souvlaki or even the self-titled everything is alive isn’t as immediate, as its emphasis on repetition and more subdued tonality will take some time to get a feel for.  But as it clicked, I felt myself drawn into many of these melodies and beats, and there’s something about the way the album has shades of darkness while still coming off as bright and hopeful overall that makes it incredibly appealing.

The combined singing of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell has always given Slowdive a unique sound compared to some of their peers, as the way they’ve harmonized has resulted in some stunning moments throughout their discography.  This is once again the case, and right from the first few minutes you get some incredible moments as the two sing in unison and seem to float in and out of the pulsating rhythms.  Like a lot of shoegaze, as the songs build up more layers sometimes the vocals get slightly buried underneath of them, but on tracks like “andalucia plays” the singing is one of the most prominent elements.  But there are more extended instrumental passages than before, with “prayer remembered” leaving out vocals entirely and “chained to a cloud” opting for quick bursts from Halstead and Goswell before the hypnotic and hazier instrumentation takes back over.  It’s an effective balance, as when the two are given the spotlight the more direct approach results in some verses that will get stuck in your head, while the softer ones blend in with the rest of the band and add to the atmosphere.

It's easy for established bands to fall into a pattern and continue to write the same type of material, but it genuinely feels like Slowdive has attempted to branch out on this latest album while still capturing the elements they’re known for.  There are still layers of hazy, distorted guitar that wash over the listener and some dips into more direct pop hooks, but the emphasis on repetition and synth laden build-ups channels post rock, krautrock, and even some psychedelic rock.  It recalls Pygmalion at times while still going in its own direction, and while it won’t be quite as immediate as the bulk of the band’s discography, give this one some time and you’ll find it to be just as strong.  Everything is alive is available from Dead Oceans.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg