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Slowdive’s ‘Everything Is Alive’ Is a Masterpiece of Subtlety

From the haunted guitars to the impressionist vocals, from the most spell-binding drones to the brisk tempos, this is a Slowdive album through and through.

Everything Is Alive
Dead Oceans
1 September 2023

Last time, veteran British shoegazers Slowdive gave us all a reunion album that struck the music world like a no-BS mission statement. It was immediate, memorable, and retained everything fans loved about the group while pushing their sound into the 21st century. The singles “Sugar for the Pill” and “Star Roving” found a rejuvenated Slowdive laying their best cards on the table, and almost no one was disappointed. In short, Slowdive the album was a success. Their fifth album, waylaid partly by the COVID-19 pandemic, is not as immediate. Everything Is Alive still comes with that classic guitar-washing Slowdive sound intact, but it requires even more of a dedicated ear to derive the most from it.

The eight songs on Everything Is Alive originate from a series of Neil Halstead demos, with keyboards playing an integral role from the beginning. Opening with “Shanty,” a pulsating note in three octaves sets the stage for the album, foreshadowing a potent blend of heavy-treated guitars and shadowy synthesizers. “I was a junkman / A candle burning / Settled over / When the night rolled in,” Halstead and Rachel Goswell coo together, cocooned by the thick slices of polyphonous atmosphere on which the band hung their name so successfully in the 1990s.

But by the time you get to the instrumental “Prayer Remembered” and its lyrical counterpart “Andalucia Plays”, the swirling shoegaze roar has calmed so completely that first-time listeners may panic in their struggle to find a hook. The arrangement of “Andalucia Plays” is particularly naked, the sparseness allowing you to discern what Halstead is singing; “The sun’s coming up / And I see you’re smiling / I dream like a butterfly / The prayers of St. Christopher.” The tempo gives you plenty of time to ponder whatever this means. When it comes to Everything Is Alive‘s first half, only “Alife” will give you a spring in your step. Surrounded by gently arpeggiated guitars and the occasional “Two lives are hard lives with you” sung in Goswell’s upper register, “Alife” feels like boilerplate atmospheric pop, which is a very good thing.

Three of the four songs on the album’s second half saw early release as singles. “Kisses” is the uptempo answer to the eponymous album’s “Sugar for the Pill”, threading incandescent guitars with Nick Chaplin’s deceptively placed bass notes. It doesn’t matter what the lyrics are at this point, even if they are “Kisses, born desert sun.” “The Slab” concludes Everything Is Alive with guitar chimes and echoes riding on a syncopated beat that just barely puts the mix on edge, but it’s “Skin in the Game” that wears the crown. A slow-motion fever dream that packs in the fuzz as well as the drone, this is Slowdive at their subtle best. Suspended from a perfectly sewn gray-sky guitar, Halstead delivers the song’s title in a series of imperfect overdubs that sound borderline incorrect.

Yet, hypnosis is achieved, even when the music takes a turn into major key territory. That leaves “Chained to a Cloud”, a track assembled upon a simple looping keyboard figure that sounds like a tame version of Goswell’s side project, Minor Victories. This time, her voice might as well be another setting on the synthesizer.

Gradual listening experiences aside, Everything Is Alive won’t be mistaken as the work of any other band. From the haunted guitars to the impressionist vocals, from the most spell-binding drones to the brisk tempos, this is a Slowdive album through and through. Everything Is Alive may not have a “Star Roving” kind of single tucked within, but it still hits the listener where it counts, deep within the tenth listen with the lights turned down low in late autumn. Don’t fret over any initial impressions of stasis. Everything is indeed alive.

RATING 8 / 10