A majestic return from slowdive.
Dignity as one reaches middle age is a tricky thing to manage, especially for musicians.
The feverish clamour to act as if the rigours of time don’t exist is all too tempting, to say nothing of the risk of alienating your fanbase with a new sound.
For example, despite all their value and historic importance, expectations aren’t particularly high for the forthcoming Rolling Stones album, which will undoubtedly come with video packages of Mick Jagger prancing around in a way unbecoming for someone half his age, but when he’s giving the people what they want, who can argue?
For reformed bands it becomes even trickier to negotiate as the whole appeal of their comeback is geared towards nostalgia. God bless Shed Seven, but for them to release an album of jazz instrumentals would be a bold step, to say the least.
slowdive don’t care about that. Evolution has always been their watchword, and to disregard the progression in electronic music since their early 90s heyday would be churlish to the point of ignorance.
Logic dictates that, as seminal as their wall of noise was, more is required if only to keep themselves interested, a fact guitarist and vocalist Neil Halstead was aware of when he began experimenting with modular synths for a, ‘more minimalist electronic’, slowdive album in 2019.
With the contribution of his bandmates, the signature reverb-coated guitars remain but they work in tandem and complement the synths on ‘everything is alive’, rather than suffocate them as they once may have. An electronic pulse glistens on opening track ‘shanty’ before mild splashes of white noise and those trademark ethereal vocals from Halstead and Rachel Goswell propel what is a shimmering, comfortingly intense opus.
Both Goswell and drummer Simon Scott lost parents in 2020, and the album is tinged with a sadness that only the vacuum of such a loss can convey.
Instrumental ‘prayer remembered’ best conveys the feelings in its post-rock, Mogwai-indebted tones along with ghostly keys. It somehow manages to be both deeply unsettling and spiritually uplifting – a tightrope slowdive often walk – whereas on the dusky ‘andalucia plays’, the regret and mournfulness is accentuated through Halstead’s dour, remorseful vocals.
Lead single ‘kisses’ was immediately evocative upon its release back in June, the woozy swoon and beautiful gliding guitar summoning images of driving through country lanes on a summer’s day. In contrast, ‘skin in the game’ (also a single) has an air of foreboding with hushed vocals supported by chamber echoes, but heartstrings are still achingly tugged.
As is their trademark the lyrics are often indecipherable, but the intent is made clear in the tone, such as on the infectious ‘alife’, which skates along gracefully with a silky bassline, while ‘chained to a cloud’ slithers and winds psychedelically. The warped guitar and keys recall imperial-era Moby, while the dual vocals from Halstead and Goswell are saccharine-sweet.
But for all the splendour and magnificence, the best is kept for last: ‘the slab’ is intentionally monolithic, a piece of juddering drama with gritty, focused guitars and whipcrack percussion which fades out with the promise of further adventures to come.
All of this contributes to the perfect album for this time of year as the summer transitions to autumn and the melancholy of what went before and what is to come pervades.
‘everything is alive’ is a stunning piece of work that showcases both slowdive’s sonic dexterity and that they’re (hopefully) just getting started.