When Steve Clarke, hitherto a bass player and backing singer for assorted bands, took on the role of tour manager for recently reformed shoegaze darlings Slowdive in 2014, his life was unknowingly about to change dramatically. Introduced to singer Rachel Goswell, the pair soon became a couple and would marry in 2018, but also Goswell would prove to be “the catalyst” for Clarke’s own ideas to finally get the kick up the backside they needed.
Billed as ‘the new band from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and husband Steve Clarke’, in reality this is Clarke’s baby and his wife is mainly there in a supporting capacity. This self-titled debut covers a wide spectrum, but an overall sense of melancholia bleeds through the 12 tracks, ranging from serene, minimalist numbers to full-on, thrillingly cinematic epics. As well as Goswell, protagonists include Stuart Wilkinson (drums), Tom Livermore (guitar), Jess Chandler of Mercury Rev and Midlake fame (keys) as well as Clarke’s brother Michael, a multi-instrumentalist, on production.
The album’s first two tracks were also the first two singles, both of which are underpinned by memorable guitar melodies. Opening with Dive, the record dips its first toe into ethereal dreaminess a lá Pink Floyd before melding into subtle shoegaze in the style of Engineers. Bulletproof then steps up as the first of five truly outstanding epics as Clarke sings, in pessimistic style, “we should all fear the worst ‘cause it might happen, then again it might not,” the song’s triumphant climax one of spine-tingling splendour.
To be expected after romance changed his life, there are several forays into odes of love as well as other reflectiveness. The soppy Never Be Without You creates a summery, Babybird effect whilst the acoustic led The Light That Shines On Everyone features interestingly wavering keyboards; Mountains is another that gets dangerously close to sickly sweet. But Passerby, the only track that sees Goswell take the sole lead vocal, is a fragile beauty where lyrics tell of “the next life” and “those we leave behind”.
The Velvet Fog is another love themed cut, but this time we arrive at the second outstanding track on the collection, as perhaps the closest relative to Slowdive appears during a suitably atmospheric moment that benefits from a soaring chorus. Clarke recently revealed his musical influences, admitting to being a “huge fan” of Mansun and you can see some similarities to their finest moment, Wide Open Space, here.
But back to the epics. A simple piano line is gradually developed and layered delicately for the terrific Spiders that contains an ominous element through its sheer power as Clarke sings, “prey or be preyed on” and “leave our webs, begin again, like spiders”. The The are recalled – minus the abrasive texture of Matt Johnson’s vocals, of course – for the excellent Home as another journey unfolds, whilst closer The Ever Turning Wheel is suitably magnificent, a perfect conclusion in sweepingly cinematic glory.
Clarke’s voice isn’t the strongest, something that will probably have contributed to repeated claims of humble unworthiness and inferiority, but countless musicians have carved out successful careers on much less. With Goswell on hand you would perhaps expect her vocals to dominate the duets or see her backing vocals outshine his lead, but instead they complement without overpowering, and that is testament to Clarke that he has held his own as he spills forth his tales of fear and hope in equal measure. The Soft Cavalry have arrived – finally, after years of Clarke struggling to find that push – but the wait is worth it. This is a tremendous album that provides a new favourite each time you listen.