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May 15, 2017 | by  | in Music |
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Slowdive by Slowdive (and a love letter to Shoegaze)

Shoegaze is a strange genre, named after the fact that bands spent entire shows staring down at the guitar pedals at their feet instead of looking at the crowds they were playing to. It’s a kind of music particularly laden in clichés, sad guitar playing, and average poem-writing teens expressing some personal emotions probably a little too publicly. To be honest, many of these stereotypes are accurate.

Slowdive formed when they were about 18 and their first album Just For A Day came out only a couple of years later. Their most well known (and most accessible album) Souvlaki came out in 1993 and featured some of the best and saddest songs they’ve written. The lyrics “The world is full of noise, yeah” from the aptly named track “Dagger” stick out in my memory. The joy of shoegaze is kind of in this excessive embrace of melodrama. Content and mood wise, it’s a bit like emo music was in the early 2000s, but made in the early ’90s when people were probably just a bit more tasteful in general.

This week, Slowdive released their fourth self-titled album after a 20 year gap. It’s the first they’ve put out together since Pygmalion, their 1995 album that was more of a stripped back ambient experiment in mood and texture. However, this new album is more of a spiritual successor to 1993’s Souvlaki.. It’s interesting seeing the band, now 20 years older, revisiting the kind of sounds and ideas they were exploring as teenagers. The songs definitely feel a bit more contemporary, but not in the way acts like U2 or Neil Young would make “contemporary records.” They’re not trying to develop their sound to try and stay relevant. Slowdive have stuck to what they know sounds good and seem to be hoping people are still into the sounds they were exploring in the early ’90s (which I think people are).


MUSIC - Slowdive


The opening track “Slomo” and single “Sugar for the Pill” feature clean digitally delayed guitar lines that lead into droney walls of sound, like on the Souvlaki tracks “When The Sun Hits” and “Souvlaki Space Station”, the closest thing in shoegaze you’d probably get to “bangers”. “Don’t Know Why” is one of the most new sounding tracks on the new album featuring almost Stereolab-like drums and quicker than usual ethereal vocals from Rachel Goswell. “Falling Ashes” is also quite new territory for Slowdive, featuring a Ryuichi Sakamoto-esque simple piano melody looped over lots of different ambient musical ideas shifting underneath. The typically melodramatic refrain “thinkinaboutloveeee,” sang by both Goswell and Neil Halstead, is a nice reminder the band hasn’t completely lost touch with it’s obsessive teenage source material.

You could spend a lot of time deconstructing the different parts of the new record, which all seem very purposeful and well thought out. However, I think it’s best to just let it hit you; if you spend time thinking about the production; where one part ends and another starts, it can get a bit overwhelming. Everything is supposed to meld together seamlessly. That’s the beauty of shoegaze; it’s not often technically or musically that complicated. In this way it can be like (certain types of) reggae or hip hop; you’ve got to let yourself just fall into the loops and grooves that make up the piece of music.

The gravitation towards sadness and depression in music in general is quite psychologically complex and something I’m definitely not qualified to provide any accurate analysis of. Obviously not all music is sad, but our obsession with really quite troubled people across pretty much every genre (in and out of music too) is definitely striking: Lou Reed, Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson. The rise of sadness as material for memes and internet culture is also something that (at least within my — what I like to think is fairly normal — social media bubble) has been particularly noticeable lately too. Maybe the pleasure in this kind of content comes from a “talking about it” kind of thing, a sympathetic “oh, you feel this shit all the time as well”. Whatever the reason, listening to overtly sad music that uses overt sonic experimentation like droney guitars and ambient noise is definitely a cathartic experience; it’s one that you shouldn’t feel you have to shy away from. It’s good to be that sad sometimes and find solace in stuff that’s sad too.

For the new shoegaze listener, Slowdive by Slowdive is probably a good place to start. It’s a great record filled with a lot of feeling that I was a little worried would be lost as the band aged. Souvlaki is probably still a better place to start; maybe it’s just my nostalgic preconceptions, but for whatever reason I don’t think the band will ever truly capture the kind of raw emotion they did in that album. Other shoegaze classics to check out are Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands, an early inspiration for Slowdive’s main songwriter Neil Halstead. Halstead and Goswell’s work as Mojave 3 in the late ’90s and early 2000s is good as well; it’s more refined and slightly unplugged. In New Zealand, contemporary acts like The Shocking Pinks and Glass Vaults are engaging in interesting experimentation with shoegaze / dream poppy washed out emotion. VUW export Grayson Gilmour is also up to some particularly interesting stuff, not really shoegaze at first but thematically similar in its raw honesty.

Slowdive by Slowdive is a great homage to the genre and a revisit of the classic tropes that make the band what they are at their best. If you haven’t listened to Slowdive before, maybe wait for the next rainy day, sit down for a bit, and turn them up loud.

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