Slowdive’s 5th album everything is alive is a fog that rolls over a calm ocean, a chilling breeze that moves through a damp forest, and the last gasp of a gentle fall that turns into a harsh winter. It demands your attention with its hypnotic guitar lines and sequential synths. The album has a natural push-and-pull between the analog and the digital, inviting listeners to a soundscape that is sonically dense yet hauntingly lonely. Slowdive’s new album reinvents the past with sleek production and otherworldly arrangements, making it a must-listen for any fan of moody alternative rock and ambient music.
As one of the most well-versed alternative bands, Slowdive draws influence from the goth rock of Siouxsie and the Banshees, the ambient works of Brian Eno, and the somber melodies of alternative country. Today, the band is a torchbearer of the modern shoegaze renaissance after their reunion in the mid-2010s and a rediscovery of their 1994 masterpiece Souvlaki.
With this album, Slowdive revisits the past to perfect the sounds on their “swan song,” experimental album Pygmalion. After the creative turmoil surrounding their legendary album Souvlaki, the band entered a hiatus that led Pygmalion to become virtually a solo project by lead singer Neil Halstead, with occasional features from other band members. This less collaborative approach to the album feels far colder and more robotic with ambient synths and drum loops. The critical reception of this album was full of lament and unease, and was deemed the “final nail in the coffin” for a once legendary band.
everything is alive rewrites the band’s past and expands on the ideas established in Pygmalion. Gone are the robotic programmed drum loops, instead it presents a warm organic feel. The live drumming of Simon Scott, however, feels like a loop, but gives a perfect trance-like repetition and allows for dynamic nuances in the music. In “skin in the game,” the snare seems to be placed through a gate and reverb, leading to a more sizzled sound that perfectly fits the surrounding mix. “skin in the game,” more than any other song, feels like a lost demo from Pygmalion that was revived and completely rebuilt to feel more vibrant. Slowdive’s evolution in their ambient songwriting approach can best be seen in the song “shanty.” The album opener is built around different synth loops that come in and out of the stereo mix, but when the driving drums and bass arrive, it pulls the entire track into a haze-filled labyrinth of digital dreams.
It’s precisely in the hypnotic tranquility that this Slowdive album is so beautiful. The dual vocals of Halstead and Goswell feel warmer in the mix, sitting just slightly above the instrumentation and poking out sporadically to ease the listener into a lull. The vocals are warm and slightly saturated with whispers that breathe life into every track. The album's closer, “the slab,” is a highlight of how these vocals sit with the mesmerizing guitar lines and synths. Together, Halstead and Goswell’s incomprehensible vocals build a wave that pushes towards the beach shore.
Photo Credit: Ingrid Pop / Pitch Perfect PR
Despite these leaps in production and arrangement, however, the album isn’t a masterpiece. It fails to deliver many of the timeless melodies and crescendos that Slowdive is known for. This is not necessarily to the album’s detriment. Instead, it means that the album lacks the “hit songs” of other Slowdive projects, like their self-titled album “Sugar for the Pill” or “Star Roving”. The only song that comes close to matching the infectious and sleepless melodies of “Alison” and “When the Sun His” is “Kisses.” Yet, when listening to only a handful of songs, the album lacks impact. As such, the album is a far stronger work when taken as an entire concept.
The best way to experience everything is alive is by listening to the album from start to finish, an experience like nothing else in the modern shoegaze/dream pop landscape. Overall, everything is alive is simultaneously a look back at what is supposed to be the band’s final album and a step forward toward a more ambient and synth-driven future. With this work,Slowdive has captured the final moments of an autumn that rolls over too soon into a never-ending winter, the final glimpses of a beach as the rain begins to pour, and the last goodbyes to the dearly departed.
Andres Alfonso is a senior in the SFS studying Culture & Politics and one of Slowdive’s biggest fans.