Shoegaze fans and followers of the iconic nineties band Slowdive rejoice as the band recently released their first album in over six years. everything is alive is a dreamy, tight, eight-track record that feels like long forgotten memories– hazy, nostalgic, and dripping in warmth and noise. The beauty and musicality of the album certainly quells any fears that the group could have lost some of their magic over the hiatus, solidifying them as one of the most important and visionary bands of recent alternative music history.
Not many bands are lucky enough to solidify themselves in any certain genre, let alone to be the ones credited with creating one.
But that is the reality for Slowdive, who is often cited for the origins of the shoegaze genre, alongside other iconic nineties groups such as My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins. Shoegaze is an offshoot of alternative rock, characterized by noise, distortion, and heavily effected vocals and instruments. Its final production often sounds dreamy, faded yet loud, and swirling, like a cascade of sound that envelopes each listener. The name of the genre itself is said to come from the frequent usage of effect pedals, causing performers to perpetually gaze down at their shoes as they played on stage.
True Slowdive fans are rather used to the idea of a hiatus, though. Despite immense popularity and critical acclaim in the nineties among their early releases, namely the cult classic Souvlaki in 1994, the band took a twenty-two year break from music. The reason? Though hard to believe given the group’s clear talent and genre-defining ambition, Slowdive was ultimately dropped from their label, feeling alienated from fans after poor reception of their third album, Pygmalion (1995). While the project certainly found its supporters and fan base in later years, it initially confused fans and critics for being far more ambient than previous work, inciting the decades-long hiatus.
Original band members Rachel Goswell (vocals), Neil Halstead (vocals and guitar), Christian Savill (guitar), Nick Chaplin (bass), and Simon Scott (drums) all pursued various side projects in the meantime. It wasn’t until the band reunited for a short stint of live shows in 2014 that the members began to feel the lasting excitement and energy that fans had been holding onto for the past twenty years. Toying with the idea of reuniting permanently, and given the fact that fans were keen on a new release, the band began writing Slowdive, their 2017 return to the music world. It was released to positive critical reception, perhaps giving them the lasting confidence needed to stick together permanently– Slowdive has been active ever since. Although fans experienced yet another hefty break while the group composed their most recent follow-up album, everything is alive, the project’s quality proves that good things certainly do take time.
everything is alive acts as a natural extension to Slowdive’s discography, combining the original shoegaze sound that brought the band its cult following in the nineties with updated sounds from the twenty-first century. The album starts with “shanty”, a track that begins with strong synth sounds before adding all other instruments to erupt into the classic full noise of shoegaze. Goswell and Halstead voices are placed directly atop one another, providing a layered and complex vocal line– their breathy tones compliment each other despite being sung in different octaves and registers. The song comes full circle as each of the instruments drop out slowly as the track comes to a close, leaving only the hard hitting synthesizer found at the beginning.
A personal favorite and standout from the album comes from the third track, “alife”. The lead guitar and drums are much more prominently featured in the soundscape, as opposed to the blown-out noisy sound of previous songs. This allows listeners to truly focus on the complexity of talent from these seasoned musicians, with each layer of instrumentation providing a depth of sound to compliment Halstead’s strong vocals. The lyrics on the album speak to the group’s growth over the years, both as people and musicians; they touch on themes of time, aging, memories, and love. One standout stanza from “alife” reads, “Down where the river runs through the town, there’s a memory of you / Don’t look, don’t look at me now / Time has got me somehow / It’s you and only you”.
The lyrics evoke nostalgia in a way that perfectly matches the familiar yet reinvented sounds of previous Slowdive projects.
The album mellows out over the next few songs, with “andalucia plays” serving as a sweet, dreamy love song with the lyrical refrain of “You are my angel”: a perfect track to dedicate to those who mean most to you in life. The vibe continues with “kisses”, another floaty song that evokes mental scenes of picturesque natural beauty. “kisses” is the album’s most popular track, perhaps because of its textbook execution of what makes Slowdive so great– droning yet dreamy vocals, blown out instruments, and a playground of noise that could fit perfectly on Souvlaki.
everything is alive comes to a close with “the slab”, an epic five-minute song. It’s clear that Slowdive deliberately chose this masterpiece as the finale, acting as a culmination of the album’s sounds and lyrical themes thus far. With vocal lines so far in the background that they could almost be easy to miss (so much so that Spotify and Genius have no lyrics listed for it), the track focuses on the immense layering of sounds and instruments as the stars of the show. The last lines of Halstead and Goswell’s voices that fans are left with seem to say “it’s everything, it’s everything, it’s everything,” repeating as the song fades to black.
This album truly is everything to shoegaze fans and cult followers of Slowdive’s epic comeback story. The band is currently out on their UK, Ireland, US, and Canada tour, and embarks on their European tour in 2024. Tickets, physical albums, and merch can all be purchased at slowdiveofficial.com. Check out everything is alive today to revisit those nineties roots and gaze down at your shoes like the rest of us!
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.