Music

Slowdive's Rachel Goswell Partners with Her Husband for New Project the Soft Cavalry

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Another post-reunion project for Slowdive's Rachel Goswell. In collaborator Steve Clarke she has discovered a talented songwriter and married him, no less.

The Soft Cavalry
The Soft Cavalry

Bella Union

6 July 2019

Of all the reunions and reevaluations of '90s-era British bands that have occurred over the last half-decade, none has been more impactful than that of Slowdive. The Reading quartet, who bowed out in 1995 with little critical respect and no record contract, are now reaping belated critical and commercial success with an outstanding post-reunion album, not to mention headlining festivals and selling out tours in the process. Furthermore, co-vocalist Rachel Goswell, at one point more-or-less out of the industry, has now been involved in two worthy side projects.

Goswell teamed up with Mogwai and Editors members for Minor Victories, releasing an album in 2016. The Soft Cavalry, though, is even more personal. In 2018 Goswell married Slowdive tour manager Steve Clarke. With Clarke harboring a collection of songs and Goswell having the newfound clout, the Soft Cavalry was born. Clarke's brother produced the couple's self-titled debut. A true family affair.

Goswell's name and associations will surely be the main draw, but to be clear, The Soft Cavalry is first of all Clarke's project. He is the primary songwriter on all 12 tracks, plays multiple instruments, and is the lead vocalist. Although Goswell provided inspiration and guidance, her on-record contributions are limited mostly to backing-vocals, low in the mix at that, and the occasional duet. Goswell's presence on any recording is always a charming one, though, and it helps lend The Soft Cavalry a cozy, lived-in feel, even when the arrangements get dramatic. This is the opposite of "creative tension". It's the sound of two people who have no illusions about life's pains and disappointments but are happy to have found companionship in the middle of it all.

The Soft Cavalry is hardly all blissful, saccharine bubblegum pop. Only the melody-soaked but too-whimsical-by-half "Never Be Without You" comes close. For the most part, the album deals in spacious, mild psychedelia that recalls Division Bell-era Pink Floyd or even turn-of-the-millennium navel-gazers Doves. More than a couple of songs begin with plaintive keyboard and voice that are slowly buoyed by swells of strings, chimes, and other effects. When it is done well, which is most of the time, it casts something of a spell.

There are enough differentiation and melody to keep monotony at bay. "Home" is ominous and full of portent. "Spiders" creeps and crawls with goth-like tension. "Passerby" is lilting and majestic. Clarke's voice is thin and not too distinguished, but one imagines him singing everything at the edge of a very high precipice, overlooking a beautiful vista yet only a step away from peril.

The drama reaches a climax and also a catharsis on closing track "The Ever Turning Wheel", which overcomes that platitude of a title and lines about "finding my way back to you" by going into full-on skyscraping, wordless-chorus anthem mode. Overwrought, possibly. But, frankly, anyone who has made it that far into the album will want to crank it up to full volume.

Reluctance to pull back and ease off the portent was a weakness with Minor Victories, but not so here. Single "Dive", with its beguiling guitar arpeggio, has a decidedly hippy vibe, perfectly cool with just lying back and watch the great gig in the sky. "Bulletproof" is almost a straight-ahead rock track, with a surety and attitude The Soft Cavalry could use a bit more of. Then again, when the album gets so bold as to use Vocoder-processed vocals on "Careless Sun", it results in the album's one unmitigated misfire.

Clarke and Goswell, and The Soft Cavalry as a whole, seem so content, and at times so resigned, that the real trick is they don't drift off into full-on desolation, nihilism, or self-pity. "Only in dreams can I be as strong as I ought to be", Clarke sings at one point. It's a great line and a sentiment not a lot of songwriters would confess to. The Soft Cavalry isn't without its flaws, some clunky drum programming among them. But if Clarke can keep this up, his days as tour manager may be numbered.

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