by Andrew Loose
Teen angst may have never been encapsulated so well as in the iconic genre of shoegaze and its walls of beautiful sound. But not many bands reached the artistic heights of British shoegaze outfit Slowdive, a group who now stand proudly in the long history of great rock music. However legendary their status might be today, their heyday was quite some time ago at this point, with the seminal work Souvlaki having released just over thirty years ago. Unfortunately, the promise the group showed in early releases was not recognized at the time. Slowdive could not survive the endless criticism of their art and split to pursue other projects, assuming their efforts would be relegated to the dustbin of music history. Yet, as the internet expanded in the 2000s, music forums rediscovered the group and eventually revived the creative spark that once burned so brightly all those years ago. Twenty two years separated the first iteration of Slowdive and their self-titled comeback album in 2017, and with another gap between then and the present, fans have waited patiently to see what has become of their output. Critics have been waiting too, this time with much more attentive and empathetic ears. Undeniably, the stage is set for Slowdive to make their next big statement with this new record.
Understanding time is the key component to everything is alive. The way time has evolved Slowdive’s sound, how time has changed their songwriting focus – Slowdive are a band well aware of how time gives and takes away. Most importantly, Slowdive are aware that time has allowed for them to be themselves at their core — no longer do they have to default to expectations of critics, with their unending list of requirements and negative thoughts, in order to achieve success. From the grizzly and weary vocals to the pensive and introspective guitar licks, time and its effects wreak havoc all over this record.
The album opens with pulsing and shifting synths that sound straight out of Miami Vice on “shanty.” Quickly the shoegaze trademark of heavily distorted guitar chords pierces the soft landscape in a way that seems to tear the very fabric of the background synths themselves. Vocalists Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell float lyrics over the evolving environment, with a delivery evocative of folk music in its hushed yet personal nature. These vocals are not limited to this track, and are all over the record, for which it benefits greatly, as the audible weariness of their voices is evocative of a softened energy. As the band members have entered their fifties, it’s clear they are wiser and precise with what they say in light of the way the waves of life have weathered their souls.
Everything is alive will not strike the average listener as a mindblowing experience in quite the same way the band’s previous efforts might. And for those long term fans, the album may sound relatively tame in spots. These criticisms have their merits, as the slow changing pace of “prayer remembered” or “andalucia plays” do not strike the listener as entirely revolutionary. However, these tracks in particular are pleasant and fit the overall themes Slowdive aim for, but that’s about as much as there is to the tracks – merely passable modern dream pop.
Furthermore, it’s hard to separate the new iteration of Slowdive from their earlier albums. While the album is aesthetically pleasing, it's clear the digital age has meant the abandonment of the rough, totalizing sound bleed and emotionally charged riffs found on Souvlaki or Just For A Day. “kisses” is the primary offender of this loss manifested as pop conformity, at times edging on copycat of the mid 2010s dream pop scene and seems only loosely connected to the rest of the tracklist in theme. That is not to say the technical aspects miss the mark on the album, as they are as proficient as ever, but instead that the chord progressions are standardized and less authentically underground as Slowdive established themselves as.
Even so, everything is alive is reflective at its core, a source of remembrance of things lost to time. Most prominently felt is the loss of family as noted by the dedication of the album to drummer Simon Scott’s father and Rachel Goswell’s mother in the album’s liner notes.
Dedications of albums are always intentional choices, and these small details of slow pace and softened guitar tones change from something unimaginative to having innate depth from the slow and painful process of grieving. These events have forced Slowdive to soften their approach in reflection to their new positions in life. And while Slowdive has taken a somewhat different direction on everything is alive with clear roots in their previous releases, the release proves to be more of a transitional period rather than a peak.
In fact, the keys to success are quite evident in some stellar tracks. Third track “alife” features the clearly pop version of Slowdive found on “kisses” with much more interesting presentation. Goswell’s chorus on the track of “Two lives are hard lives with you” is so high pitched and wrought with distortion that it contrasts greatly with the waterfall-like guitar licks for an ethereal effect. Duality exists all over the track in their most clear statement of their positions, with the lyrics themselves, the clashing of the sounds and Goswell and Halstead’s competing performances exploring the difficult contrast between “then” and “now”. The last leg of the album starts strong, with the shimmering guitar tones from Christian Savill on “skin in the game” circling so much that it feels as if the listener’s reality is lost, while the methodical drumming of Scott and the effortlessly magical basswork of Nick Chaplin forming a wonderfully grounding base. “Chained to a cloud” adopts the reflective mood through arpeggiated guitars exaggerating the progression of change throughout the track. Final track “the slab” is the most atmospherically impactful, with vocals drenched in fuzz and walls of sound heavy enough to excellently drive home the reflective mood of the previous track, a weight that wouldn’t feel out of place on any of Slowdive’s previous masterpieces.
The passage of time, the struggle of understanding oneself as contexts change, and death have all worn thin on Slowdive. Where Slowdive (2017) was the group finding their musical feet under themselves once again, everything is alive serves to show Slowdive’s attentiveness to the development of their sound, reflective in that Slowdive has acknowledged what made their shoegazey-dreampop so influential.
Slowdive are reflecting on every little detail in their lives, taking lessons from a range of experiences forced upon them with the passage of time, and have come to the conclusion that everything that surrounds them is alive and beautiful.