Music

Slowdive: Better than Hitler

Richey Edwards, of Manic Street Preachers fame, famously said that he would always hate Slowdive more than Hitler. He did not live long enough to see the resurgence of fascist ideas in the form of the alt-right, which is probably a good thing. If he would have known that Slowdive would be back around the same time, I bet his head would spin. But here we are.

Slowdive is one of my very favorite bands of all time. Top ten, easily. I saw them on their first reunion jaunt. I suffered through the final orange sting of the sun as it hit me square in the back of the neck (and a set by Real Estate that was polite but only made me more anxious for Slowdive). I needed to be front and center for them. It was at an outdoor festival in Chicago and they were so close we could have splashed each other with our sweat. Singer and guitarist Neil Halstead was wearing a white and red shirt with The Stooges on it and Rachel Goswell was wearing a shimmering dress that looked like a brassy metal pine cone.

But man, when the sun hit, it stayed fucking hit. Sunburn be damned, it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, the rare show that lasted a little over an hour but could have been twice as long. I watched the clock off the side of the stage, heart a little heavier with each passing minute, and when they played an eight-minute take on Syd Barrett’s (and James Joyce’s) “Golden Hair”, I knew it was over. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

So thank the shoegaze gods that there is a new album, and spoiler alert: it’s fantastic. When I saw them play their old songs, they were different in subtle ways. They had a melancholy cast to them and I can only imagine how they felt playing their swirling folk and ambient dreams to a group of kids who were in kindergarten (or the womb) when they fell apart. Their music was always autumnal but the wistfulness of youth was replaced by the quiet heft of adulthood and the songs became even more emotional as a result.

I would mentally categorize this album as being in the same vicinity as A Thousand Leaves (1998) by Sonic Youth, another album of adults making beautiful music for other adults. The songs are on the lengthy side, with the shortest ones clocking in at four and a half minutes. “Slomo” is truth in marketing and it is a seven minute voyage into the mist that does an about-face into first single “Star Roving”, an uptempo pop number that I jokingly refer to as Slowdiiv.

Slowdive are well aware of their influence by now and picked Beach House producer Chris Coady to man the deck. It’s a match made in heaven, the perfect blend of what’s sizzling in 2017 and those timelessly chiming arpeggios that come out of the ether. And there are lots of reference points to hold onto, with shades of the space in the mix of Just for a Day (1991), the perfect pop of Souvlaki (1993), and the ambient abstractions of Pygmalion (1995) whirling in songs that represent not just a summary of where they’ve been but new ground as well.

Like the upfront piano of closer “Falling Ashes”, a heartbreakingly beautiful tune that occupies a similar emotional space as recent songs by Radiohead but still manages to be altogether different. In an interview with Pitchfork, Neil Halstead said that this album was a bit of a regrouping first step but the next one would be a move into experimental waters. Slowdive is the rare band that can go out on a limb and still carry their sound with them, so I’m eager to hear whether the next album will have a “Rutti” or a “Souvlaki Space Station” or something entirely different.

Until that happens, we have these eight songs. I can safely say I wasn’t expecting anything new, and I can also say I wasn’t prepared for exactly how good these songs are. It’s been unexpectedly chilly lately which is also objectively the best weather for a Slowdive album. You can wrap these songs around you like a familiar sweater or you can turn them up and let them cave in your skull. I can’t wait for the next one.


 

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