The last time English shoegazers Slowdive released an album, I was in kindergarten, and Bill Clinton was in the White House weaponizing Wall Street with deregulation when he wasn’t busy paying for Monica Lewinski’s dry cleaning bills. I was learning basic arithmetic, or maybe the “clean up, everybody, everywhere” song, but I think the counterculture adults were mostly either flying the flannel on the grunge bandwagon or throwing down mad adlibs at coffee shop poetry slams. Daria, a cartoon that followed a feminist, critical-thinking teenager through the intellectual wasteland of a wealthy suburban high school, was one of the most popular shows on TV. In the context of this decade, which celebrated difference and sensitivity, the shoegaze movement, led by My Bloody Valentine, made perfect sense. A genre that blended distorted electric guitar swells with obscured, saccharine vocal melodies, shoegaze music gave critics the opportunity to hone their thesaurus skills in the search of synonyms for “shimmering.”
Well, it goes without saying that a lot’s changed in the past twenty years. A nihilistic populist wave has washed over the country. Irony has turned against the satirists and put some of the sharpest minds in shackles. And most notably, technology over-load has overstimulated the population into a horde of want-to-be automatons, waiting for their opportunity to plug their brains into the matrix. So why’s a band that hasn’t released new material since 1995 coming out with an album now? Do they need to make a buck? Are they just bored? Nope, not as I see it. In the context of the millions staring at screens, living in their minds, Slowdive’s new self-titled album does what any good shoegaze does; it brings you down to earth, into your body, where you notice how shallow your breath has become. Seriously, after their long hiatus, with their undulating, swelling, swirly, etc. post-rock sound, Slowdive’s new album feels like a good, deep breath.
But does this album differentiate itself from the rest of the shoegaze canon? Back in the day, critics were always complaining that the shoegaze scene was a sort of insular community that offered up similarly nebulous songs that made it hard to tell where one band’s sound ended and another’s began. But again, I want to point out that the cultural context of this album is one of the aspects that galvanizes it the most. What was my rhetorical question again? Does the album differentiate itself from the rest of the shoegaze cannon? Well, no, not really, but that’s a good thing. Separated from the scene by twenty years plus, the band’s reunion delivers a statement. In a time when cell phones, the internet, and social media ostensibly connect us to each other more than in any other era, it’s become increasingly difficult to feel authentic connection with other people. This craving for authenticity is the heart of the reason that the cultural atmosphere was a stage set for the resurgence of a shoegaze band like Slowdive. With the new self-titled album, Slowdive proves it isn’t just a scene band that records music doodles that are loosely woven together with reverb and drone. The abstract nature of the lyrical content and the unconventional song structures are all product of the band’s music expressing the search for, rather than the articulation of, answers. A postmodern approach to artistic expression from a post-rock, shoegaze band. It’s nice when things make sense.
This album, like a lot of their music from the 90s, feels organic and fluid, like a dream, or a David Lynch film. Basically the same thing. E.L. Doctrow famously said: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” It’s like Slowdive takes Doctrow’s dictum to heart when they’re making music. In their coruscating, scintillating, phosphorescent, etc. expression of what sounds like some human minds contemplating the expansion of the universe, Slowdive’s music is saturated with an admirable sense of authenticity. I don’t think this record is going to redefine the shoegaze genre, but it has come at a most welcome time, offering up an earnestness that today’s world often lacks. We’re not quite plugged into the matrix yet, but if you’ve ever experienced a phantom vibration, you know on some level that we’re headed in that direction, and we’re not too far off. Wait, did your phone just vibrate? Better check. Slowdive’s new self-titled album plays at a sonic frequency that, at least while you’re listening to it, snaps you out of the screen-induced coma you’ve been sleepwalking through life in. So listen, wake up, and do something. Fuck, go outside and make a friend IRL. — DILLON ALEXANDER