Slowdive seemed destined to be a cult band. In their first iteration, the Reading, UK shoegazers existed for just six short years, a more limited tenure than even The Pixies, their weightless effects-pedal drift conjuring an overarching sense of wonder and melancholy alike, even with Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s voices obscured enough to filter out any specifics. Critics in Britain at the time underappreciated their Brian Eno-produced sophomore album Souvlaki, and American critics barely noticed it. By the time they left their final feather-touch mark with the daydream haze of 1995’s Pygmalion, they had disappeared into the ether, Halstead and Goswell holding on to traces of their former guitar-driven flights of fancy with the more folk-influenced Mojave 3.
The rediscovery of their first three immaculate, distinctive records in the ensuing years—some of which can be attributed to critical reappraisal years later, and some due to the Internet making once hard-to-find music more readily available—created a uniquely favorable landscape for Slowdive to return 22 years later with the release of their self-titled 2017 album and an audience eager to receive it. Remarkable not merely because it existed but rather that it actually lived up to the promise of two decades worth of expectations, Slowdive saw a band once seemingly forever lost in the clouds coming back down to earth with greater impact—but never losing sight of the vast expanse overhead.
The arrival, six years later, of the band’s second post-reunion album, Everything Is Alive, is a less symbolically revelatory event, but the music it contains reveals more subtly satisfying rewards. Now a band that’s existed longer in their second act than the first, Slowdive are moving at a less frenetic pace perhaps—even if the music they made never suggested such a thing in the first place—but they’re continuing to arrive upon more thrilling creations, expanding the boundaries and definitions of their blissfully heady aesthetic and taking great care to fill the spaces they’ve created with even more adventurous layers of sound.
The songs on Everything Is Alive came to life out of sketches and fragments Halstead crafted on an array of synthesizers, the warm tones of which permeate the album, from the opening of leadoff track “shanty” to the brighter arpeggios of pop standout “alife.” As plausible and as compelling an idea as it might be to imagine Slowdive creating an M83 album, that’s not what Everything Is Alive is. Instead, they put electronics to use as part of a greater tapestry, weaving together more elements in something that feels rich, even heavy as evident by the dense grandeur of its first song.
There’s a uniform heat burning at the core of the album even if the surface still carries much of their classic gloom, which is tangible whether the band’s roaring through a wall of fuzz in “skin in the game” or basking in goth-rock shimmer in “kisses.” The greatest song of the bunch is closer “the slab,” which carries an intensity that’s often only hinted at in the band’s prior material, its sheets of guitar cascading down a stark but heavy bassline that seems fit to reverberate through coliseums. As the cult of Slowdive swelled in their absence, Slowdive have likewise only continued to grow with them.
Label: Dead Oceans
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.