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Definitive Albums: Slowdive 'Souvlaki' (1993)

Shoegaze Come-Latelys Come Upon Shoegaze Classic

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Slowdive 'Souvlaki'

Slowdive 'Souvlaki'

Creation

Drags Me Down

Given they coined the name shoegaze as a pejorative —a criticism of how noise-guitar musicians spent whole shows looking at their feet— much, anyway; it's no surprise that the UK music press never really liked the genre. Sure, there were some boisterously positive reviews for My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything, but mostly there was a level of derision. Shoegaze bands usually weren't from London, they weren't loud rockstars, and they often weren't that charismatic live. They filled a void between The Stone Roses debut and the ascendency of Brit-pop, but begrudgingly so; even by the time Loveless had arrived, the cynical and cyclic press were ready to bring shoegaze down.

It was into this spiteful hive of building backlash that Slowdive blithely wandered like lambs to slaughter. The quintet were quiet, earnest, and shy; geeky teenagers from rural Reading making music that was drifting, dreamy, and sweet. They were almost immediately mocked, and it remained that way, press-wise; Slowdive slagged for tagging on shoegaze's coattails, derided when the backlash kicked in, then jeered when their 1995 demise marked the genre's final gasp.

Yet, so little of this critical negativity was couched in the actual music; nor do those very of-the-moment prejudices have any bearing on how Slowdive sounds so many decades on. For, history has been plenty kind to the band's beautiful, boundless, oceanic music; to its wondrous drifting feeling, in which washes of holy vocals, wafting keyboards, and tremolo'd-to-the-hilt guitars unspool with deliberately-paced dreaminess. Given their debut LP, Just for a Day, appeared in 1991, they are no longer seen as late-comers to the shoegaze sound; but a vital participant in the genre's original era.

High Highs

For those listening back to Slowdive —listening out of context of the English music scene of yore— there's a certain gentle magic to their music. And never is that more apparent than on their second record, Souvlaki, an LP oft-heralded as the outfit's masterwork. Here, songwriter Neil Halstead creates an air of lingering melancholy; a sort of blissful sadness that hangs in the air, yet never coheres.

Here, the effects-doused guitars and drawled singing of shoegaze are employed, but without that hard, rockin' edge of peers like My Bloody Valentine or Ride. Instead, Slowdive push away from rock's bombast and inch closer to ambient music. The presence of Brian Eno —as producer and collaborateur on a key couple of cuts— is a sure sign of where Slowdive's heads were at; with even songs Eno doesn't appear on boasting his influence.

The LP's titular track, "Souvlaki Space Station," is a six-minute centerpiece in which guitars whinny, whorl, and pirouette through zero gravity, hanging like smoke in weightless air; whilst underneath backwards-phased drums, mechanized rhythms, and the white of pure white noise combine to create a song dense with detail, a thick fog of sound that, for all its robotic chug underneath, has no real core, no real form. It's epically beautiful, in a washed-out, half-asleep kind of way, and so goes Souvlaki. "When the Sun Hits" hits huge, post-rock-ish crescendos; "Melon Yellow" overdoses on backwards drum-loops and dangling guitar notes; and opener "Alison" is Slowdive's most famous pop-song, a jangling love-ballad that feels like a late-summer day giving way to the LP's forthcoming winter.

These songs combine for a sustained suite of songs concerned not with ego, flashiness, and rockism, but only with creating a nostalgic, golden-toned dreamworld into which listeners can disappear for 40 minute stretches that feel like blessed eternities.

Record Label: Creation
Release Date: May 17, 1993

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