An exquisite, exploratory return that sidesteps expectation...
'Slowdive'

Shoegaze remains one of music’s more nebulous terms. After all, it lingers between the extremes of noise rock and dream pop, a signifier that began almost as a term of abuse, before being embraced, and subsequently used so widely that its very meaning began to wash away like so many reverb-drenched guitar chords.

If shoegaze is to have one, single, defining band, though, then it could very well be Slowdive. In sound and approach the group’s slim, enchanting catalogue has managed to outstrip the initial and unfounded criticisms lodged against it, fuelling several generations of new Jazzmaster wielding groups – indeed, Slowdive could well point towards the current strata of bowl-cut clad musical daydreamers and whisper ‘we invented you’.

The band’s re-union has only served to underline this importance. Despite never gaining anything close to a hit, the re-emergence of Slowdive – and the celebrations that accompanied it – proved the power of their music, something that the gently overwhelming grace of subsequent live performances only enhanced.

‘Slowdive’, then, comes with no small degree of pressure. But let’s get this out the way first: it’s a triumph. From the title – how daring to re-emerge after 22 years with a self-titled record - to the final note it feels like the work of a group whose creative confidence knows no barriers, least of all their own past. It feels wholly comfortable, at once the work of Slowdive as we’ve known them, but also presenting new ideas, and asking us to re-invite our perceptions on what their songs should sound like, and mean.

‘Slomo’ is a wonderful opening, the sound of preconceptions being picked apart. About as far from simplistic and formulaic indie pop as its possible to get the track finds Slowdive interweaving among themselves, displaying an almost post-punk style desire to explode notions on how a group should construct themselves.

‘Don’t Know Why’ is exquisite, a compact, concise piece of sighing melody and chiming guitar. ‘Sugar For The Pill’ shifts through altered consciousness, an Alice In Wonderland exhortation, while ‘No Longer Making Time’ feels unburdened by structure, a carefree relaxation that shunts aside the verse-chorus-verse structure and dwells in pure sound.

‘Star Roving’ is lyrically exploratory while musically direct, the crisp, slightly distorted guitar chords leading straight into outer space. The abandon is a personal one, though, piercing through heavy atmospheres towards the night sky, “feeling love for everyone tonight”.

Final cut ‘Falling Ashes’ is exploratory in a different sense. The interplay between Neil Halsted and Rachel Goswell’s vocals drives the record forward, supplying a kinetic motion within their subtle dichotomy.

Here, though, the lyrics drop gently on top of one another, the dual-split vocals prompting a rare sense of creative flux, of melodic fluidity. It feels at times like early King Crimson, or Pink Floyd’s post-Syd/pre-Dark Side nexus. It’s the sound of a band forgetting who they were, and embracing who they could become.

Released in an era laced with shoegaze imitators, ‘Slowdive’ finds reinvigoration by simply ignoring them. The group feel more at home with the methodology of early prog or post-punk, with a sense of the abstract rippling beneath those crystalline waves of perfect sound. Shine on, you diamonds.

9/10

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