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'Everything Is Alive' Proves the New Era for Slowdive Is Just as Great as Their First (and Maybe Better)
No longer having to battle grunge or Britpop, the UK band is as fresh as ever on their first album in six years.
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Alright, let’s get back in the groove!
I hope all of my stateside readers enjoyed the long holiday weekend and a warm “welcome” to all the new subscribers from the past week.
Music-wise, I spent my time off listening to old favorites and generally trying to keep away from any records from this calendar year. This proved to be a smart move, as my enthusiasm for new tunes has returned, and I can’t wait to hear what the next few months have to offer.
September is looking to be a massive month, and it almost feels like cheating to have UK shoegaze giants Slowdive get you back in the mood. Their new album, Everything Is Alive, is easily one of my most anticipated of the year, and I know I probably share this sentiment with many of you.
It’s a tall order for a band to reform after a long time off and release anything of note. It’s even harder to match previous output and damn near impossible to improve on your classic albums. Off the top of my head, Dinosaur Jr., Guided By Voices, and Superchunk (who didn’t break up but allowed nine years to pass between studio records) are the shining examples of groups that flirt with hitting all three of these points.
While Slowdive is nowhere as prolific as any of those bands, their 2017 self-titled comeback record showed they didn’t miss a step in twenty-two years apart. Maybe it’s because the indie world had finally caught up with what they were dishing out in the early nineties, or the band is finally on a label that knew how to talk about them and support their creative endeavors. Still, Slowdive was easily towards the top of the year’s best albums, and 2017, in particular, was stacked. I’ll admit that record immediately hit me in its immediacy compared to their earlier efforts that I backtracked to when I was exploring shoegaze in the early aughts.
A brisk six years later, Everything Is Alive is here to answer whether a more mature Slowdive may have caught lightning in a bottle. There’s absolutely no doubt that this is one helluva band, and no matter how long they take between records, their music is nothing short of vital.
Like many new albums that we’re still hearing for the first time after pandemic delays, Everything Is Alive shouldn’t have taken so long. Vocalist and guitarist Neil Halstead initially demoed these songs before the band was to meet in the studio in early 2020. After the delays, Everything Is Alive still sounds like this new version of Slowdive, but with a refreshing painting of minimal ambient textures added to the mix.
Look no further than the modular pulsing of “Shanty” for this new take. Building upon hypnotic synth waves, Halstead and vocalist Rachel Goswell invite the listener back to Slowdive’s world as Christian Savill adds swirling guitars. Not to be left out, the rhythm section of drummer Simon Scott and bassist Nick Chaplin conjure their signature sorcery that is expected at this point. For my money, though, “Prayer Remembered” is the best version of this updated sound. A gorgeous instrumental number, “Prayer Remembered” is never in a hurry, as it builds towards its devastatingly ethereal coda - I know I’m in the minority, but it’s a great example of more of what I wanted out of Sigur Rós’s slightly disappointing record earlier this summer.
Slowdive may explore new textures on the record, but even the stuff that sounds familiar is refreshing. “Alife,” “Kisses,” and “Skin in the Game” are all outstanding, with all three being some of the best singles in the past few months. While “The Slab” is an excellent closer, it’s “Chained to a Cloud” that is the other must-hear on the record - on top of the warm synth loops, we have Halstead and Goswell returning to shoegaze and dream pop’s roots with vocals so buried, it takes a lyrics sheet to figure out what they're saying.
Everything Is Alive may only be eight songs, but Slowdive chooses quality over quantity and then some. While Halstead produced the record, it’s worth noting that the always-in-demand but frustrating (to me) Shawn Everett mixed most of the album, and it can be filed in his “great” pile, along with last year’s Blue Rev by Alvvays. The record oozes autumn and some welcomed grey clouds thanks to weaving crescendos that envelope the ears like that warm blanket you’re excited to throw back on your bed after a summer of hot sheets.
After a long weekend with the album, my immediate reaction is that the pairing of Slowdive and Everything Is Alive is as magnificent as the band’s first three records. They may be better because, as the rest of the indie world has caught up with Slowdive, and they’ve inspired endless copycats, it’s obvious there’s nothing better than the real thing.
Big fan of Slowdive? Can’t stand shoegaze? Let me know!