by Christopher Y. USER (50 Reviews)
April 29th, 2018 | 1 replies

Release Date: 1993 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Shoegaze at its most delicately beautiful, most harrowing and most delicious.

(Post-review note: you may find the summary changed before and I added some recommendation tracks now, as I think the original summary is a bit silly and hoping for those who want to first try the album can know which track to try first)

Among the shoegaze big three, My Bloody Valentine, Ride and Slowdive, the latter of which is the last one that I heard of, as I didn't know their existence until 2017 when they release their self-titled comeback album, and I heard of Ride because their debut album Nowhere featured in a Youtube video about the best albums released in 1990, while I knew MBV because of their surprise comeback album appeared in another Youtube video in the same channel that ranked surprise album drops.

For Slowdive? Well, I originally thought they are just simply another critically acclaimed shoegazer like the other two, until I discovered that in 2018, when I watched a Pitchfork Classics Documentary about this album in order to know more about them, it turns out that they are the black sheep among the three, as neither their debut album, Just For A Day, nor Souvlaki, earned critical acclaim, some critics even gave them obituary-like reviews, like Dave Simpson of Melody Maker slammed Souvlaki so badly, he mentioned, "...'Sing' aside, I would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again," and claimed, "Slowdive? More like slow-death to me." Worse still, Manic Street Preachers’ Richey Edwards even declared, “I hate Slowdive more than Hitler,”, shows that chanting guitar pop was the next big thing at the time, instead of distorted, reverb-drenched shoegazing that was seen before in the late 1980s.

I was unpleasantly surprised that the album that contained many beautiful and fragile masterpieces, like "Alison" and "When The Sun Hits", received such harsh criticisms, and somehow made me disgusted about the ignorant presses try too hard to please the burgeoning Brit-pop scene at the time, and made me hate Brit-pop.(Although I would like to admit me myself do love some Brit-pop classics like Pulp's Different Class and This Is Hardcore and Suede's first two albums.)

But hatred on the ridiculous Brit-pop scene aside, the album actually deserved more praises than criticisms. For instance, the sublime opening track, "Alison", caught me mesmerised immediately with the very first chord, with lyrics related to the breakup of leader Neil Halstead and vocalist Rachel Goswell, such as the aforementioned "Listen closely, don't be stoned.I'll be here in the morning", the unmistakable chorus "Alison, I said we're sinking/there's nothing here but that's okay/ Outside your room, your only sister's spinning/ but she lies. Tells me she's just fine/ I guess she's out there somewhere." and the second chorus "Alison, I'll drink your wine/I'll wear your clothes when we're both high", displayed skilled lyrics that displayed both hope of a new relationship and despair of a romantic breakup. Not to mention the high notes of the guitar give the song a whirling euphoria feel to the song, setting the tone not just for the rest of the album, but for the following dream pop scene in the early 2000s, with artists like Beach House and Blonde Redhead try to replicate the beautiful dream pop of this track.

Moreover, tracks such as "Machine Gun" displayed a darkly blissing melody that hits you like a machine gun, with Goswell's falsetto vocals and Halstead's mystical vocals gives emphasise the despair the band met during its recording process;"40 Days" even highlights more on Halstead's devastated spirit after his romantic split, with lyrics such as "40 Days and I miss you/I'm so high that I lost my mind", suggests how wearied his soul was; the Brian Eno-collaboration tracks "Here She Comes" and "Sing" also proved to be tracks that are worthy listen to, while the former displayed a simple yet harrowing melody with the help of Eno's keyboarding, while the latter gives a trip-hop feel to the song.(Trip-hop was on the verge of becoming a big thing at the time, maybe Simpson gave praise to the track because of it?)

Furthermore, ultimate killer tracks such as the melancholy "Souvlaki Space Station" and the majestic and luminous "When The Sun Hits", with the dub-infused former gave you a feeling of floating in the space with scathing lyrics from Goswell to Halstead that further highlights the melancholy dream-pop of the album, while the synth-y latter contains one of the most impressive ever-shifting guitar melodies that recalls the extreme dynamics of the Pixies' and compensates the rather redundant lyrics, making both of them to be live staples of the band.

However, what surprises me most is the closing track of the album, "Dagger", as it is an acoustic track rather than the effect-drenched dream pop of other tracks. However, this also gave a new expansion that the band was willing to have a step forward. The sparse proto-Mojave 3 track, further sculptured the dark, melancholy of dream-pop in the album that would make many artist to duplicate the sparse , haunting sound, while showcase Halstead himself as a prolific songwriter to be reckon with.

On the downside, however, Souvlaki didn't showcase any instrumental prowess like Just For A Day, an important feature in the shoegaze genre, which explains why the influence of it didn't prove as strong as Nowhere or Loveless until the late 2000s, with many dream pop artist try to ape the black-velvet texture of Souvlaki.(Check out Beach House's 2010 album, Teen Dreams, to find out whether it shares the similarity of Souvlaki)Maybe because of it, dream pop and shoegazers can become what it is today, where they use the dark melancholy textures of Souvlaki.It may not be as good as Loveless or Cocteau Twin's Heaven or Las Vegas, but it showcased the band at the height of their power, and, in some way, one of the greatest height of shoegazing/dream pop.

Today, Souvlaki is about to celebrate its 25th Birthday, while Richey Edwards went missing(given to his erratic behaviour, its not too surprising), presses that used to support Brit-pop such as Melody Maker and NME eventually met its downfall, yet Slowdive is already back to thrive, earning more American audiences than Maniac Street Preachers do. Very ironic, to be honest. But to compare the rather forgettable Brit-pop so-called classics, maybe that's why Souvlaki, or even the whole shoegazing scene, is praised as "a genre never dies", continue to fascinate many indie music fans to form a band to duplicate the mesmerising nature of it, proofing pop hooks and catchy lyrics isn't the real essential element in music. It's a stellar piece of music that can stand the test of time, not even some of the Brit-pop legit classics can rival its power.

Recommended tracks:
Machine Gun
40 Days
Souvlaki Space Station
When The Sun Hits

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user ratings (1904)
other reviews of this album
IronGiant (5)
"It's alright, we're altogether"...

something vague (4)

Electric City (4.5)
If you've listened to Loveless a lot and want more shoegaze, this is a pretty good album to get....

Scott Herren (5)

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 7th 2018


Album Rating: 5.0

I know it's a month late already to say this, but I will say it here anyway.

Happy 25th birthday, Souvlaki!

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