Slowdive were a band built for eternal youth: They were teenagers, only 15 when they met and started rehearsing, not yet 20 when they found themselves signing with the legendary Creation Records, suddenly label mates with bands like My Bloody Valentine and Teenage Fanclub. They were riding the crest of a scene predicated on the intensity of adolescent feelings, and like all adolescent feelings, it ended, decisively and dramatically: When the press turned on shoegaze in favor of Britpop, the turn was as decisive as getting dumped senior year by your first love. Their “last” album, 1995’s experimental and loop-based Pygmalion, was dubbed—admiringly—as “career suicide.”
It takes an extraordinary tenderness toward the resonance of teenage feelings to return to a band like this, after 22 years away—after marriage, children, and divorce, greying hair. But tenderness has always been one of Slowdive’s key virtues. Maybe owing to the fact that Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead were childhood friends since age 5, their music always glowed with a familial affection that was hard to quantify or point to: When they played together, or when their whispering voices swirled together, it always felt like the continuation of a private conversation between two former kids.
In 2023, Slowdive are, improbably, the closest thing the strange and ephemeral shoegaze scene has to “survivors”—a band that can still play its catalog to festival audiences decades later, whose new songs occasion cheers instead of drink-line evacuations. Their self-titled 2017 comeback felt exultant: with its thick, overdriven guitars and bolder, cleanly etched pop choruses, it might be the loudest record in Slowdive’s catalog, an invigorated blast from old friends who have fallen joyfully back into each other’s company again.
On everything is alive, those two former kids look up, startled and amused to discover the wrinkles on each other’s faces. It’s the first record where you can hear, and feel, the weight of those previous years, and the shadows of the losses that etch the contours of a life entering its 50s. The music is wispier, more skeletal—a gust of distortion from 2017’s “Sugar For the Pill” would blow it all away. Ironically, it’s the closest they’ve come since reforming to recreating the sound of 1993’s glimmering, jewel-like Souvlaki, but it’s been darkened and complicated by age and perspective. This isn’t summer music; this is sunset music, attuned to and aware of fading glories.
Part of that haunted feeling emerges from the vocals—on “skin in the game” and “andalucia plays,” Halstead’s voice sounds slightly harrowed, closer to Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan than to the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid. That character alone, like the appearance of crow’s feet on a handsome leading actor’s face, imparts an appealingly rueful, seen-it-all cast to the music. There is a lot of shared life bound up in the Slowdive project now, after all. Since the group began sessions in April 2020—and then quickly abandoned them for six months as the world shut down—Goswell’s mother and drummer Simon Scott’s father died. Slowdive lyrics are largely imagistic, not narrative, but it doesn’t take much interpretation to pick up mournful signs flashing past in Halstead’s words: “Time runs on once more/Another ghost is born/I feel like change will come/When the night rolls in,” he sings on album opener “shanty.”
Halstead initially conceived of everything is alive as a minimal techno record, closer in spirit to Pygmalion. Although they gradually drifted back into all-band territory, something of the minimal coldness persists in the record’s bones. The first sound you hear is the blurp of a modular synth, which oscillates for a good minute before the first cloud of guitar colors the song’s edges. The perfectly named “chained to a cloud” lays out a loop, layers a few elements, and then lets a single lyric circle in the arrangement like one red sock in the dryer. At eight tracks, three of them mostly instrumental, the length feels purposeful and personal, like these songs are sketches from a journal Halstead and Goswell left open.
Even the love songs feel lonelier, the landscape more unforgiving. A good Slowdive song has always felt like two lovers huddling together for warmth. But on everything is alive, the forces conspiring against the star-crossed lovers feel more menacing and specific. “Remember the first winter/The dark heart of everything/And the dog just laid down/You’ll cry for all of us,” Halstead murmurs on “andalucia plays.” The implication of a dead dog: Surely, this is a first for shoegaze, a genre predicated on recreating the terrifying teenaged conviction that all your strongest feelings would last forever. But this is what it means to be a survivor, even within music built on ephemerality: The longer you live, the further your central drama falls away from the frame, and the more attuned you become to the shifts happening at the corners, the markers of erosion. Everything is alive, yes, but only for a moment or two.
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