Of all the bands of the shoegaze era, Slowdive was the one that seemed to never quite live up to its full potential. Sure, records like the band’s sophomore effort, Soulvaki, had some sublime moments—“Alison” chief among them—but when the band disbanded just as the scene that celebrated itself was fizzling out, there was a big “what if” left hanging in the air.
Though that question was partially resolved by Mojave 3, the band singers Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell formed following the break-up, it wasn’t until Slowdive reunited a few years ago that we began to get some real answers. The shows on the band’s reunion tour revealed that there was still plenty of magic left in the records the band made some 20 years ago. But it is Slowdive’s self-titled fourth album that brings the band’s alchemy to its fruition. (So much so that we may have to redo this list.)
Slowdive (Dead Oceans) is nothing short of breathtaking, a wondrous mix of ambiance, melody, and shimmery guitar hooks. In just nine songs, Slowdive reaches heights that few of its contemporaries ever approached, creating an album that takes the shoegaze aesthetic with which they’ve always been associated and completely transcends it.
The record begins with “Slomo,” a near seven-minute track that builds at a pace befitting its name, eventually blossoming into bursts of Goswell’s wuthering vocals. It is reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins as much as anything from Slowdive’s past catalog, which is doubly so for “Don’t Know Why,” on which Goswell vocally traipses atop ringing guitar notes not unlike the way Elizabeth Fraser once did. Sparkling with a fairydust of the band’s own making, it is at once ethereal and vaguely melancholic. That aesthetic carries over to “Sugar for the Pill,” perhaps the highlight of the record. Here, the guitars are smoothed to chiming refrains that accent the song’s plaintive melody. It is Halstead who takes the spotlight on this track, and it’s not hard to envision the song appearing on one of his solo albums in a more spare form. Same with the piano-led mantra of “Falling Ashes” that closes the record and “No Longer Making Time,” which seems a companion piece to “Sugar for the Pill,” as it mines a similar vein, only with the addition of a tidal wave of guitar that comes crashing in a third of the way through the song. The rest of the album is perhaps more reminiscent of Slowdive’s past work, but is no less stunning. Consider me blown away.