Review Summary: these shoes are made for gazin'
While reading through the press release for everything is alive
, one sentence gave me a little chuckle: “[f]or a genre that is often thought of as divisive [...]
”. Surely, shoegaze in 2023 comprises one of the least divisive genres, right? It’s inoffensively floaty music some people love, most can understand or appreciate
, and very few actively hate - if anything, I’d argue it’s one of the least divisive genres out there. Regardless, I do get where the notion of Slowdive being (part of a) divisive (genre) comes from, even when disregarding their maligned position during shoegaze’s heyday. A new Slowdive album carries a lot of weight and has to live up to expectations unlike any other new gaze release (except for whenever that other band
decides to come out of hiding again, I guess), while knowing full well it won’t be able to please camp Souv
and camp Pyg
. To make matters worse (or better), their 2017 self-titled comeback LP was well-received and only adds to the questions surrounding everything is alive
- is it better than self-titled? Is it the long-awaited Pygmalion
part two? Is it a pop album? Is it the album that ruins the Slowdive legacy?
None of these anxieties appear to affect the actual soundscape of everything is alive
at all, though. The answers to the above questions would be almost, no, aren’t all Slowdive albums?, and no - but that isn’t really what matters. While this brand new full length was initially conceived as a “more minimal electronic record
”, the final product is decidedly not that
. Instead, it mostly feels like Slowdive creating a Slowdive Album in 2023 (woah): in terms of songwriting, it’s eight tracks the band could have released at any point during their career, with a little added patience (or: “maturity”). There’s proper Souvlaki
-throwback cuts like “skin in the game”, there’s the gorgeously quiet contemplations of “andalucia plays”, there’s unapologetic hook-focused gaze-pop in the form of “kisses” - altogether, the record feels like a group of outstanding musicians getting together to make some more music because they enjoy it and just so happen to be outstanding at it. Songs are well-constructed and feel light and optimistic (in spite of the parental deaths that influenced the record), without getting caught up in their context. everything is alive
feels practically self-contained, like a Slowdive record blissfully unaware it is a Slowdive record, most likely for the better.
Simultaneously, the fact that everything is alive
could have been a very different album is hard to dismiss. The songs that contain explicit traces of this minimal electronic framework are easily the strongest cuts and, most importantly, feel like a productive midway point between “Slowdive Slowdiving” and whatever Pygmalion
worshippers keep hoping for. “shanty” carefully glides in with a truly entrancing synth line that underscores the entire song and guides it through its many layers. This opener is at once the most complex, weightless and contextually abrasive moment on the record: each distorted instrument intertwines with the expansive soundscape in an unexpected manner, while constructing an altogether soothing experience in the process. In essence, it’s shoegaze at its most impressively unassuming. Similarly, “chained to a cloud” adds a wonderful dose of clarity to the album by slowly drowning more heavenly synth tones in its abstract haze. Besides being entirely engulfing, these cuts also manage to feel like they open up new possibilities for the band as they cover and explore fresh textures, hinting at where future projects may take them: a more densely layered sound that retains all the warm and fuzzy elements of a typical post-hiatus Slowdive song. Unfortunately, everything is alive
isn’t quite that as a full experience - while there isn’t a single bad song to be found here, the project does have a tendency of feeling like a collection of good tracks rather than a fully cohesive album.
However, let’s take a step back and appreciate what we have here. Slowdive are a bunch of fifty-somethings making better shoegaze than most of their younger (and older?) peers, even though everything is alive
will have to endure constant comparisons to two of the greatest (gaze) albums of all time. Moreover, isn’t it amazing that several moments on this record actually live up to these incredibly high standards and rank among the band’s best compositions? Above all, it just feels
amazing to be listening to a new Slowdive album and hear how their performances are as ethereal as always and more than capable of accommodating the wonderfully ageing vocals of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell. Sure, it would be great to see Halstead taking more control in producing and mixing future music as he curated the record’s two best songs, but Slowdive are good no matter what you do to them. Perhaps that’s the most divisive thing about them.