Released 5th May via Dead Oceans
A self-titled album is unusual at such a late stage in a band’s career, and yet Slowdive’s choice to self-title their fourth studio album — and first album in 22 years — feels perfectly appropriate.
Shoegaze, dream-pop, ambient — whatever genre the Berkshire band are vaguely categorised as, Slowdive is surprisingly refreshing and original, and yet retains the very distinctive nuances of Slowdive’s earlier work.
The vocals are strong enough to be bold and crisp, refusing to get lost or buried below layers of synth and yet soft enough to be unobtrusive. It’s dream-pop but without the overbearing sickly-sweetness that sometimes accompanies the genre, which can sometimes lead to tracks which come across as music composed for dramatic montages in romance films.
‘Slomo’ is a lengthy yet punchy opening song. It starts off gently, yet progresses to become strangely catchy and memorable, setting a rich, dream-like tone for the rest of the album.
There’s a reason the opening song is this one; it’s introducing the album unapologetically, announcing Slowdive’s return whilst remaining laid-back and ambient. Here, and on the rest of the album, Rachel Goswell’s voice stands out as a highlight, hitting the highest of notes without once sounding shrill or forced, complementing the instrumentals.
The album then progresses into a more synthy, grainy sound akin to the sound of old-school shoegaze, with ‘Star Roving’ sounding exactly as the title would suggest, with vocal layering used beautifully.
The production on the track is key to its success — it is clear that much thought has gone into the placement of each layer, so that nothing is overbearing and the bassline is still audible.
‘Don’t Know Why’ picks up the pace but is one of the less memorable tracks of the album, and a weaker point before ‘Sugar for the Pill’, a touching stand-out track. The lyrics are substantial, holding meaning without belting out some repetitive moralistic message.
For instance the lyrics ‘Our love has never known the way/Sugar for the pill/ You know it’s just the way things are’ feel incredibly personal and communicate the melancholy and futility that comes with love. The song also signals a shift in the tone of the album, serving as a volta at which point the focus and mood becomes reflective, poignant, and above all unpretentious.
One weakness of the album is that after this change in style, each song appears to blend indistinguishably into the next, despite each being individually excellent. The drumming at the beginning of ‘No Longer Making Time’ is notable, but it’s easy to switch off when listening to the rest of the song.
Perhaps, though, that’s the purpose: music that can be both actively listened to and played when multi-tasking. The lyrics are also delicately emotive on the latter songs of the album, although stand out less than on ‘Sugar for the Pill’.
‘Falling Ashes’ is a perfect closer. The piano instrumental builds up gradually and is quietly distinctive, building up the intensity and solidifying album’s emotional power. Every component of the song is so carefully placed, and can only be detected upon multiple listens.
‘Thinking about love, thinking about love’ on repeat may seem like an overly simplistic or even lazy lyrical choice, and yet the way in which the words are delivered gives the track and the album as a whole a greater meaning than the words could ever have written down. It’s pared down in the best way possible and signals the progression that the album has undergone from start to finish. Whilst there is a lull in the second half, ‘Falling Ashes’ is a highlight of the entire album and saves it from becoming too repetitive.
Overall, Slowdive summarises everything that the band has achieved to date. It symbolises the distinctive sound of Slowdive and serves as a reminder that greatness comes in quality, not quantity.
It’s also an album which demands to be listened to from start to finish, in one sitting. For that reason I’m not going to list the top tracks, but rather encourage everyone to take 46 minutes out of their day to lie down and play the whole thing.