on 19 January 2006
I've been listening to Slowdive for some years now and their songs have never lost the power to give me goosebumps. For me, their ability to make uncomplicated yet beautiful soundscapes, impressionistic, emotional songs reminiscent of a Turner painting rendered in audio, makes it impossible for me to stop listening to them. While the guitars of My Bloody Valentine roared, Slowdive made theirs sing.
While sound is all important to what they did (try 'When the Sun Hits' and crank up the volume & bass and I defy you not to feel your heart start to pound), this album benefits from lyrics that are both audible and appropriate. 'Alison' is a Slowdive classic blending exquisite harmonies from Rachel and Neil, beautiful, meaningful words that really paint the flawed but attractive character of Alison ('Your messed up life still thrills me'). '40 Days' is so sad it makes my lip wobble; if you've ever missed someone you'll recognise the emotion immediately - if you haven't missed anyone, you'll know what it's like!
OK - maybe it's not music to put on before you go to a club! On the other hand, why not stay in and experience some of the finest, most affecting music available.
Slowdive became a much more interesting band in the period between debut album Just for a Day (1991) & this 1993 release. It did get some decent reviews then, but does feel overlooked- which might be due to the music press passing over the "shoegazing" bands they feted in 1990/1991 and focusing on "Grunge"- which was in turn exchanged for tokenist dance music coverage and the horror that was "Britpop".
This collection showed that Slowdive main-man Neil Halstead was advancing as a songwriter- their earlier material might have relied too much on chimes & drones. Here She Comes & Alison (about a charming girl who used to work for a record chain in the Maidenhead/Reading region?)show advances in songwriting that would lead towards the song-orientated secret that is Mojave 3. Not that the soundscapes have been abandoned- Melon Yellow fuses a great Syd Barrett/Robert Wyatt style song with acoustic guitars & dubby basslines. Whether this was the influence of too much smoking, On-U-Sound dub albums or The Orb I don't know- the title track Souvlaki Space Station (too much watching Solaris maybe?) has a sound like Lee 'Scratch' Perry meeting...well, Slowdive.
Souvlaki remains a highlight of imaginative guitar-orientated music, though it has more in common with the ambient sounds of the era (such as The Aphex Twin- who would remix their 5 ep the following year). Hopefully this will get re-released at some point in the future, perhaps in a manner as attentive as the Ride reissues of 2001. I think it's a lost classic, but any album that blends Eno's ambient works, MBV inspired guitar sounds & dub-basslines equal to those on PIL's Metal Box must be worthy of investigation by the open minded...
on 13 January 2006
It seemed during their lifespan that Slowdive never received the credit they deserved; in light of them emerging around the time of "Loveless" can't have helped. But I found their music to be perfect for late night drives in the car, or relaxing at home with the headphones on. Their early EPs were especially good, notably their cover of Syd Barrett's "Golden Hair", just gorgeous beyond description.
However, "Souvlaki", to me, was their definitive album. Though I don't think of every track as perfect, the truly great songs on this album make me give it 5 stars. "Alison" is a gorgeous start, languorous and atmospheric. "40 Days" is even better, with a simple but stunning guitar line that is simply transcendent, and Neil's vocal seems deadpan on the surface but strikes me as full of emotion. Above all, the peak moments could very well be the brilliant "Souvlaki Space Station" and "When The Sun Hits". Both are absolute masterpieces. In the former, Rachel's vocals are somewhere between waking and dreaming, and are more another instrument than anything else, complementing the washes of guitars perfectly. In the latter, Neil and Rachel share vocals to spine-tingling effect. Oddly, this track always seems to end too soon, I enjoy it that much. In addition, the extra disc with B-sides and the wonderfully hypnotic "In Mind" single are a great incentive to check out this release.
I can't pretend to know all the lyrics, nor do I care a decade on from my first listen. Honestly, I believe this album is more about overall feeling in that the lyrical content isn't such a crucial factor, much in the same way as the best Cocteau Twins records. This is truly music to take you to another place. Sadly, Slowdive only released one more album, "Pygmalion", after this one, but they left a solid, albeit brief, recorded legacy that truly deserves a chance at re-assessment.
on 21 July 2010
Damn, but I wish I'd heard this a long time ago.
I bought this album purely on spec after hearing Slowdive being mentioned alongside the likes of Engineers, Pure Reason Revolution & Oceansize. I could never do MBV's sonic blitzkrieg and missed the rest of the so-called `dream pop' thing, and had no idea what to expect. What I heard was a beautiful lost gem filled with stunning spaced-out guitar soundscapes, drifting ethereal vocals, some serious dub rhythms and the delicate touch of Eno (albeit through a slight psychotropic haze), plus evidence of a growing song-writing talent in Neil Halstead.
This is definitely a songs album, but the band is pushing at the boundaries all the time. Mellow or acoustic songs elegantly draped with atmospheric light and shade (Here She Comes, Altogether & Dagger); great melodic pop songs in vast spaces full of ebbing and flowing layers of guitars and vocals (Alison, Machine Gun, the fine cover of Some Velvet Morning and the excellent When The Sun Hits); ambient songs with voices weaving between shifting patterns of sound and rhythm (Sing, Country Rain); and truly epic songs, soaring celestial vocals and indie reverb guitars surfing into deep space on a current of heavy cosmic dub (the magnificent Souvlaki Space Station).
Considering it was released in 1993 the music here is bold experimental stuff, and it's easy to hear why they are such an influence on some of the aforementioned bands. On this album at least, Slowdive seem to be probing the borderland between indie rock and atmospheres, crafting some fine songs and creating soaring ambient spaces to perform them in. They were definitely ahead of their time and got swamped by the successive waves of Grunge & Britpop, but they left us a masterpiece. Wonderful stuff.
on 17 August 2009
It's ironic that while Britpop swept aside shoegazer bands like Slowdive, Chapterhouse etc, most of the Britpop albums (with honourable exceptions) now sound very dated and generic, while 'Souvlaki' (released in 1994) remains fresh and timeless & stands up to repeated listens.
One criticism of the early 90s shoegazing bands is that their music lacked dynamics, with weak songwriting buried under mounds of effects and wispy vocals (the Cocteau Twins have a lot to answer for). On the other hand, it's possible to criticise a lot of the Britpop bands for the lack of depth and atmosphere behind those bouncy tunes - they sound good on first listen because they're accessible, but lack durability (e.g. most of Blur's Great Escape album).
With this in mind, maybe the key to the excellence of 'Souvlaki' is that the atmospheric sounds (swathes of guitar, submerged male/female vocals etc) are balanced by strong, melodic songwriting and a sense of musical dynamics. A song like 'Alison' would still sound good as a stripped-down acoustic number, but its atmosphere of doomed romance is hugely enhanced by the spacey & massive guitars behind it.
In certain ways, 'Souvlaki' has a split focus. Some of the songs almost point towards folk ('Dagger', 'Alison', 'Melon Yellow'), while others (especially 'Souvlaki Space Station', 'When the Sun Hits') are almost space rock. The last two are astonishingly good & sound immense when played loud. 'When the Sun Hits' might be their best & most emotionally affecting song.
The production is superbly clear throughout, but the two songs produced by Brian Eno ('Sing' & 'Here she Comes'), while not necessarily my favourite tracks, have an especially languid, fluid feel to them & provide a quiet prelude to the louder songs which follow.
Criticisms? Not many. I think the point about an album like this is that it's practically perfect on its own terms, but that doesn't mean it will appeal to everyone. It's true, for instance, that you can't make out all the words on a lot of the songs - especially 'Space Station' - but at the same time if you 'get' this kind of music it won't bother you (and notably you can hear the words on the songs where the words matter - like 'Alison' and 'Dagger').
on 31 October 2010
I bought this album on tape back in '93'getting towards the end of the shoegaze era,and it still has the same impact on me 17yrs later.
My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive are definitely my favourite shoegaze bands.Now with the bonus tracks which are heading into a dancier direction it would be interesting to see how there sound might of evolved.Just as a recommendation if u love this kind of music there is a New York band called 'A Place to Bury Strangers'who have released 2 incredible albums.
on 6 December 2008
I have no idea why I love this music but this music cannot be denied - at any stage of my psyche this feeds through and what can i say, it just hits me. Like it if you dare...
on 2 March 2009
I can't think of a better way of spending a Sunday afternoon than sticking this record on and chilling. The tracks are epic, deep, emotional and vaguely disturbing. Machine Gun is one of my all time favourites. Slowdive never got the credit they deserved from the music press. But they ploughed their own furrow with integrity and this album is very very special.
Despite the fact 'shoegazing' was over in the media's eye with the advent of grungeTM & Nirvanamania, one of the key S/G-acts Slowdive released a classic second LP. Debut 'Just for a Day' (which is reissued alongside the second & third LPs) didn't advance much more on the early e.p.'s/singles ('Slowdive', 'Morningrise','Holding Our Breath'). Here the'Dive (as they were never known...) came into their own - delivering on the promise of their initial work which existed in a plain between AR Kane/Cocteau Twins/My Bloody Valentine & more recent acts such as Mogwai, Sigur Ros, Engineers & a truly awful Swedish band called Jenniforever (or something like that) I had the misfortune of seeing the other night! Slowdive belong to a wave of head music that was missed by the mainstream, most of which has dated as wonderfully - they should be considered alongside Bark Psychosis, Talk Talk, O'Rang, Autechre, Seefeel, Main & Tortoise. Mogwai have cited the'Dive and some of the guitars here aren't that far from the hallowed Slint (oh no, a math rocker is going to assault me...methodically). If anything this record makes more sense right now alongside the second wave of shoegazing and ambient souls such as Silver Mt Zion, Explosions in the Sky, Boards of Canada, Sigur Ros, & Gwei Lo. It certainly streches rock or guitar music into more ambient and experimental realms, something that was at odds with the retro-stylings of most of the 90s - and perhaps they exhausted this refraction of rawk by the time of the ambient noodlings of the '5'e.p. and final LP 'Pygmalion'? Slowdive, as they were called, are often cited in relation to a lame provocative comment by the suicidal one from Manic Street Preachers. They're much more than that and this LP contains more of worth than the entire career of the Castro-approved MOR-ers!
The original 10-track LP sounds more fantastic, which might be down to the pretty horrid sound of the 'Catch the Breeze'-compilation? Single 'Alison' (named after a pleasant former colleague of mine I think?) is sublime stuff, setting the tone for the ambient exploration that follows. 'Machine Gun' offers gorgeous harmonies between Rachel Goswell & Neil Halstead, while the domeheaded god Brian Eno assists on 'Here She Comes' (...perhaps Slowdive should reform for one more record with Eno at the healm? Make the 'Remain in Light' of shoegazing?).
The best material comes in the latter half - 'Souvlaki Space Station' a prime example fusing dubby Jah Wobble sounds with spacier swathes of guitar - imagine a child wailing over the top and it's probably the record PIL might have made if Wobble hadn't left! It sounds fantastic now and would hold its own on a compilation alongside Czukay/Wobble, David Sylvian, late period Talk Talk, 'Soon Over Babaluma'-Can & Sigur Ros. It's also nice its companion piece 'Mousakka Chaos'is found on the bonus disc. 'When the Sun Hits' & 'Melon Yellow' continue the dub-inflected ambient voyage, as vital as the more ambient work of MBV and a fine surrogate for Cocteau Twins when they became less obligatory following 'Heaven or Las Vegas.' Closing track 'Dagger' focuses on acoustics and in some ways points less to 'Pygmalion' and more to the territory Mojave 3, Neil Halstead & Rachel Goswell have pursued on 4AD records.
The bonus disc gives a more complete picture of Slowdive's most complete work, coming with the cover of 'Some Velvet Morning' which is as good as their cover of 'Golden Hair' found on the reissue of 'Just for a Day' and both parts of the '5'e.p. which I found hard work the last time I tried listening (I've sometimes found this with people like Autechre, Boards of Canada, Stars of the Lid & Aphex Twin - it's usually a deficiency on my part!). The remixes of 'In Mind' stand up fine alongside Warp material of the 1990s and the directions found on Mogwai's excellent remix project 'Kicking a Dead Pig.'
'Souvlaki' is a more than welcome reissue and a reminder of a great band - a cult classic in waiting and one I expect to infect Top 100 lists in years to come...
on 12 June 2009
Bought this as a spur of the moment thing as I had been aware of the band in the 90s but hadn't heard much of their stuff. I thought this was an impressive album, though not that unique, very ethereal and very nice to listen to. Breathy vocals, noisy yet sweet guitars, all in all glad I invested.