The moment “Alison” is played, you are immediately injected with reverbed guitars and the soft, weary male and female vocals of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell. You feel as if you entered an ambient world of an endless horizon for the imagination. Welcome to the world of Slowdive.
Slowdive formed in Reading, England and consisted of Halstead, Goswell, Christian Savill, Nick Chaplin and Simon Scott. The band would release four albums total with “Souvlaki” being the second album released in 1993. Slowdive is considered part of the big three of Shoegaze (the other two being My Bloody Valentine and Ride). Shoegaze is a genre where bands create a sound that commonly features heavy usage of guitar effects, soft vocals and high volume. However, each band had notable characteristics that separate each band. My Bloody Valentine primarily used distortion and the glide guitar technique while Ride played their music at a high tempo that gets the adrenaline going. Slowdive followed suit with the idea of drowning listeners with a certain effect but with the sense of feeling like it’s a dream.
Referring back to “Alison,” the guitars are filled with reverb that creates a hollow and open sound for the listener to use their imagination. When I hear the song, I think of a blank and hazy area tinged with yellow that gets brighter as you hit the chorus.
What you notice in the album is that songs bring emotions that overwhelm you song after song. “Souvlaki Space Station” brings you this sense of dread and confusion with the heavy usage of delay that constantly repeats a note being played. Then, immediately, you are thrust into “When the Sun Hits” which has an explosive chorus that gives the complete opposite of “Souvlaki Space Station.”
Lyrically, the songs of “Souvlaki” take on romance but not the sappy kind of romance you would think of. It’s those romantics feelings that give you a sense of longing, loneliness or pain. The feelings you get when you’re madly in love with someone or when a relationship ended horribly. These were influenced by the fact Halstead and Goswell ended their relationship prior to the making of this album. It’s evident throughout tracks such as “Dagger,” a slow and painful ballad that leaves the album on a grim note. The lone acoustic guitar slowly played as Halstead laments about the pain he’s caused to his lover without realizing it, “And me I am her Dagger, too numb to feel her pain.”
The unfortunate thing about this album, as well as the rest of Slowdive’s music, was that they were met with negative reception on initial release. Most famously, there is a review by Dave Simpson of Melody Maker who said he “would rather drown choking in a bath full of porridge than ever listen to it again.” By this time, the Britpop scene was rolling and bands such as Blur, Oasis and Suede were heralded by the British media while they panned the Shoegaze groups. You could say Slowdive were at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Although Slowdive would release their third album in 1995, “Pygmalion,” the band would later dissolve after being dropped by their record label, Creation. The members would go on and create their own bands/solo projects such as Mojave 3 and Televise. Slowdive would reconvene in 2014 and would later release another album, 2017’s “Slowdive.”
Today, Slowdive’s music is revered by many critics. In fact, Pitchfork magazine would create a documentary of the making of “Souvlaki.” It’s good to see a record like this get recognized after all these years. It’s heartbreaking to see such amazing records get panned when they first came out. It shows how people can be close-minded sometimes and just follow whatever the “coolest thing” around is. Definitely one of the first albums for newcomers of Shoegaze, it shows what the genre is but is also accessible if you find other classics like My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” too abrasive. “Souvlaki” is now considered the band’s greatest album as the sound they developed on their debut reached greater heights.
Track Picks: ”Allison,” “40 Days,” “Here She Comes,” “Souvlaki Space Station,” “When the Sun Hits” and “Dagger”
Label: Creation Records
Listen to “Souvlaki” here:
Documentary about “Souvlaki” by Pitchfork: