Album Reviews

Slowdive – Everything Is Alive

(Dead Oceans) UK release date: 1 September 2023

Taking the cloud tunnel bliss of the best shoegaze and adding some pure pop pleasure, this is less cinema for the ears and more dream visions for the soul

Slowdive - Everything Is Alive Around the turn of the millennium, a lot of musicians became obsessed with the movies. Every trip-hopper turned in a “soundtrack to an imaginary film”, and every post post-rocker pledged that their latest release was “cinematic” (it was just accepted that cinematic meant breathtaking and adventurous, whereas strictly speaking 2001: A Space Odyssey is exactly as cinematic as Carry On Emannuelle). The new Slowdive album Everything Is Alive – only their fifth, and a full six years since their self-titled return to the studio – doesn’t sound like either of the above, but does bring to mind a few film soundtrack styles in its opening three tracks.

There’s a stately sequencer at the beginning of shanty – capitals are verboten on all track titles here, it’s time to get all nostalgic for early ’90s electronica credits and Designers Republic chic – which very much resembles something from one of Tangerine Dream’s mid-’80s soundtracks. This is overlaid by a blanket of guitars, some reverby vocals curling like mist on a moor, and a rhythm that edges towards being groovy but which is played with such funkless froideur it could have been what High Llamas had in mind when they named their 1998 album Cold And Bouncy. The track is light and airy, but somehow still quietly epic, like a Bond theme made from candy floss.

There’s a cosy yet sombre atmosphere to prayer remembered, an instrumental which is all glistening guitar and breathy pads across a rock solid but a wholly unaggressive rhythm, and it’s like a reticently gothic cousin of a big celluloid heartstring-puller from 30-odd years ago, such as Eddi Reader’s Nobody Lives Without Love from Batman Forever (and no, we didn’t expect that this would be a connection we’d be making either). alife, however, is an echoey emotional dream-pop beauty, and sounds like a song from the closing credits of a John Hughes knock-off teen comedy playing in an air hangar – it even has a sudden unceremonious fade, as if there are no more stylists and legal advisors left to name onscreen. If a lot of shoegaze is a rich luxurious chocolate truffle, then this delightfully fluffy tune is a pocketful of funsize Milky Ways, and none the worse for that.

Not every track comes with the air of OSTs past, however. Lead single kisses is a cheery mid-paced pop breeze which has a little New Order in Neil Halstead‘s understated vocals and nearly jangly guitar, whereas skin in the game is only a few dozen effects pedals away from late-’80s literate pop (imagine Black if they swapped their espressos for milky tea with three sugars and some MDMA). The album’s high points are very different. andalucia plays is a hushed countryish paean of the sort which a lovelorn Midwesterner might strum to himself in the dusty back room of a Texaco, which is smothered with blissful 4AD guitars and lucent first-rays-of-the-dawn synth notes. Even better is chained to a cloud which is built on bright pointillist synth arpeggios that could have been nicked from old Frankie Knuckles classics like Baby Wants To Ride or Your Love (as nicked by The Source & Candi Staton for You’ve Got The Love) and which blossoms into a ball of noise with a lovely contrast between the clinical precision of the drums and the warm blurriness of the rest of the song.

Slowdive’s discography stretches back 33 years, and there’s not much on this album which will raise the eyebrows of anyone familiar with their previous work, as it falls somewhere between the fuzzy glow of 1993’s Souvlaki and the dispassionate chill of its follow-up Pygmalion. But Everything Is Alive is joyful listen regardless, taking the cloud tunnel bliss of the best shoegaze and adding some pure pop pleasure. Cinema for the ears? More like dream visions for the soul.

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