In 2016, Slowdive released their first record after a lengthy period of inactivity. After suffering from shoegaze’s lack of long-term popularity and internal struggles, 1995’s frayed and dismayed Pygmalion – still an achingly beautiful record, mind you – was to be the swan song to bookend their run in the limelight until their unexpected return in 2014. During their time away, in which they took to various endeavours, including family and musical projects, their acclaim skyrocketed amongst young new audiences that finally saw shoegaze for the revolutionary guitar music it always had been.
To my own surprise (and shame, to be quite honest), Slowdive didn’t do much to satisfy the hunger for new material from Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead et al. It was fine – just not what I needed, what I felt they could – should – be capable of. Some of the songs just couldn’t capture the spark the band conjured during their initial run. As such, I was initially apprehensive about Everything Is Alive. This apprehension lasted about 0.005 seconds, however, as the album’s first single “kisses” blew me away immediately. Dreamy, driving, discernably Slowdive: now that’s what I was talking about! Nothing about this could’ve been made by any of the countless coattail riders; this is the real fucking deal.
And now for the best part: this feeling doesn’t let up for a single fucking second once you’ve put on Everything Is Alive. On this album, Slowdive perfectly bridge the gap between all of their records to unify their vision in a way that feels like progress without losing the loving touch of self-reference. The youthful energy of Just for a Day, the celestial, far-reaching melodicism of Souvlaki, the elegiac electronics of Pygmalion – it’s all there, in one uplifting package for you to soak up. Originally meant to be a minimal, fully electronic side hustle for Halstead, this record has instead become quintessentially Slowdive through their combined efforts as a rejuvenated unit.
“shanty” opens the album with a glimpse of what it could’ve been without the input of the other 4/5ths of Slowdive, as throbbing electronics pulse out into the ether before being reeled in by droning dream pop guitars and a steady rhythm section. Halstead and Goswell still sound as beautiful together as they always did, their voices interacting like old friends that haven’t seen each other in a while but didn’t drift apart one bit. The instrumental bits are thoroughly engaging as well, shooting for the same stars the band has visited between 1991 and 1995. Afterwards, “prayer remembered” dials down the tempo a bit and adds another handful of layers. Reverberating ever forward, this song builds a gorgeous sonic architecture that remains untouched, uninhabited by human voices.
As we move towards the ultimate one-two punch of Everything Is Alive (wait for it), “alife” presents us with a welcome distillation of Slowdive’s inherent strengths: voices and melodies. Goswell and Halstead hit all the right beats, both together and individually, as the guitars swirl delectably around the reliable presence of bass and drums, handled by Nick Chaplin and Simon Scott, respectively. Together with Halstead, guitarist Christian Savill weaves stunning riffs and harmonies, tickling the same kind of magic out of their instruments as they did in their prime. Although that would be implying that their prime can’t be the now, which might very well be far off the mark – like fellow legendary ‘90s band Low, Slowdive might just reach their zenith quite far into their career.
And then we reach the middle of the black hole, the absolute center of gravity that holds this resplendent record together as far as I’m concerned: “andalucia plays” and “kisses”. The former is probably the most affecting piece of music the band has written in a while, taking the form of an affectionate downtempo ballad, sung by Halstead as if it were a heartfelt lullaby at the end of a beautiful day. I’ll be the first to admit, I have tears in my eyes every time I listen to this song. Launching off this emotionally charged foundation is the aforementioned “kisses”, which turns the affectionate heft of its predecessor into a potent form of energy to fuel its stellar trajectory. This is the lift-off after the comedown; the ‘good morning, dear’ after a restful night’s sleep. At this point, I was in awe of Slowdive all over again.
The rest of the record then plays out as breathtakingly as it began, without reaching quite the same astral altitudes. I don’t wish for this to come across as a slight – coming down to Earth after the rush of zero-gravity can feel quite ecstatic in its own way. Breathing does become a problem while floating amongst the constellations, after all. “skin in the game”, “chained to a cloud”, and “the slab” are a worthy finale to Everything Is Alive; saying otherwise would be to – unfairly – compare the heights of our mesosphere to the outer reaches of the solar system, if you catch my breeze.
Blissful. Gorgeous. Mind-bendingly elating. I’m not sure I could properly convey my feelings about Everything Is Alive without endlessly regurgitating a thesaurus. Thus, I would be wise to keep this short (relatively short; I’m aware I have already been rambling on for almost 900 words at this point). Slowdive are back, have been since 2014. But now, they are back back – returning to the strengths of their original run without becoming a parody of their younger selves. I’m intensely excited about this record, and you should be, too.