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Everything Is Alive rambles farther into Slowdive’s catchy, lulling, and mystical sphere

"everything is alive"

Release date: 01 September 2023
Slowdive - everything is alive cover
30 August 2023, 09:00 Written by Tanatat Khuttapan

Shoegaze veterans Slowdive are fully embracing the sound that made them.

Coming from an age when the music press wrestled with their capricious views on the genre, they had avoided being labelled as such. The ideation of shoegaze was a seed that the band didn’t deem worthwhile to nourish due to all the backlash that ensued. But it had continued growing by the increasing appreciation from the younger generations of listeners and critics. Now that more than a quarter-century has passed, shoegaze has become one of the most beloved subgenres in the sphere of rock music. Slowdive witness it in real-time: they watch from a vantage headland the communal love that keeps expanding and expanding, confused yet elated by how alive everything is before them.

Perhaps that’s where they got the title of their fifth album. For a band whose works have provided a dreamscape where their listeners can rest and heal, there isn’t much else to prove. Just for a Day and Souvlaki still to this day evoke a sense of unbound youthfulness and reckless wonder, ageing as magnificently as the band themselves. Accordingly, everything is alive isn’t a definitive renovation of Slowdive’s sonic architecture, but a modern recontextualisation of it: a reinstatement of their true identity whose characteristics never shy away from distorted, multi-layered guitar thrashes and reverberated vocalisation. Home is what this sounds like – cosy, secure, and simply gratifying.

Long before the studio sessions for their fifth album, lead songwriter Neil Halstead originally wanted to make electronic music. The members, once having his idea pitched, decided to mellow it down to what had served as Slowdive’s brand: harsh tenderness, rich with technical detail. On the transformative opener “shanty”, a crisp synthesiser slants through Nick Chaplin’s bubbly bassline, suggesting a new direction as Halstead did, but is shortly swept by a violent crash of electric guitar, veering the song into the mystical signatures of shoegaze. “chained to a cloud” is in the same vein, starting with lulling droplets of arpeggiated synths before giving way to waves of roaring guitar.

These songs are indubitably vigorous and youthful. Moreover, there’s also a fleck of Slowdive's nostalgia and urgency spattered on them, like the golden sky at sunset, whose warm-coloured canvas quickly loses its treasured vibrance to nightly darkness. “alife”, with its spiralling progression, sits as one of the most upbeat songs in their catalogue. Both Simon Scott’s hasty drum pattern and Christian Savill’s swift guitar strums suggest a scene where they’re hurtling towards something that’s melting away every second. The quintet’s subdued panic is palpable in the instrumental upheavals, which again is an embodiment of Slowdive’s ability to capture the negatives within a melodic framework that can even be described as soothing.

Rachel Goswell’s mother and Scott’s father are the people to whom everything is alive is dedicated. With this information at hand, we can safely say that loss and grief are, in part, the record’s themes, hence the unrelenting emanation of nostalgia and contemplativeness. “alife” has “Two lives are hard lives with you” as a wrenching refrain after each verse. “andalucia plays”, a billowy slow-burn that harks back to Pygmalion, portrays love in an old polaroid, analogising Halstead’s recollections (or dreams) to a butterfly, whose beauty is “perfect and temporary”. “kisses” may be an ode to young lovers, but underneath its covers lies a subtle nuance of longing to relive that moment again.

The concept of time is what binds them all together. Where Slowdive used to sing about moments unravelling right before them, they now play with the aspects of impermanence, learning the hard way that everything’s just a mark on an ever-expanding scroll. “Time made fools of us all,” Halstead sings at one point. After wading through such hard truths, the songwriter arrives at a resolution on the concluding blastopia “the slab”: “Everything is everything”. It’s a bit cheesy as the ending line, but he repeats it as if nothing else can express how important it is to savour what’s in the present. Slowdive are following the aphorism themselves; at another peak of their music career, they’re making every second of the golden age count.

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