Slowdive’s brief and wondrous ‘90s run was like a pleasant dream: hazy textures, deep emotional heft that remained fuzzy around the edges and an end that came far too quickly. You knew you there was something special left behind in their wake, but it was fleeting and hard to piece together all the details. Formed in Reading, England, and centered around the interlocking vocals of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, Slowdive had a knack for extracting the melancholia and heartbreak from the shoegaze aesthetic and making it glisten. The band’s small discography—a trilogy of albums made for Creation Records—encapsulates the prototypical indie career arc: the commercially promising but unsatisfying debut (1991’s Just For A Day), the genre-defining classic (1993’s indelible Souvlaki) and the “difficult” follow-up (1995’s arty and underrated Pygmalion, which shares more of its genetic material with post-rock outfits like Labradford and Mogwai than their shoegaze peers). The band flamed out, perhaps prematurely, with the remaining members regrouping as Mojave 3.
By 2013, a Slowdive reunion seemed inevitable: The band members were all alive, they seemed to be on speaking terms and the return of My Bloody Valentine helped spark a resurgence of shoegaze interest from old fans and a younger generation of listeners. They’d have been nuts not to reform. What wasn’t inevitable was that we’d get another Slowdive album—or that it would be worth paying attention to.
Slowdive, the band’s first album in 22 years, is here, and it’s good in that pleasingly familiar way. The record does not pick up where Pygmalion left off. If anything, it sounds as though it could have been recorded in 1993. All the central ingredients of Souvlaki are present—Goswell’s ghostly vocals, the dense walls of processed guitars, an almost narcotic air of dreaminess. It’s a sound that’s commonly imitated, but rarely done this well. Some tracks are perhaps too familiar: “No Longer Making Time,” with its quiet-loud dynamic, is a kissing cousin of “When the Sun Hits.”
The self-titled album manages to absorb elements from Slowdive’s glory days without settling into mere retread. The lengthier, more expansive tracks are especially inspired. “Slomo” is a euphoric dream-pop workout with lyrics inspired by the Cornwall seaside, and it’s among the band’s best work. Halstead initially wrote it as a solo folk tune, but this arrangement, with Goswell’s angelic counterpart, has an almost hallucinatory beauty to it. “Star Roving,” the first single has a more muscular rock edge. Then there is the eight-minute “Falling Ashes,” a slow, languorous ghost story that’s driven by acoustic piano instead of guitar.
There are some dull moments, like the airy, America-obsessed “Everyone Knows,” but those are redeemed by a strong closing duo: “Go Get It” is stormy and immense, with Halstead and Goswell’s alternating pleas bludgeoned by thick guitar noise. Only “Falling Ashes,” the final track, contains traces of the glimmering, extraterrestrial atmospherics of Pygmalion. The twinkling piano arpeggios that anchor the track bear a remarkable similarity to Radiohead’s “Daydreaming,” from last year’s A Moon Shaped Pool. Maybe that’s a coincidence. Or maybe it’s payback: Radiohead famously lifted the melting frequency effect at the end of “Karma Police” from “Souvlaki Space Station.” Honestly, it’s heartening to see Slowdive survive long enough to borrow from the bands that got rich off their influence. Hail to the thief that celebrates itself.