Lush. If there is one thing that my wife and I cannot agree on, then it is my preference for soap of that name, because if I use soap and not some kind of creamy soap lotion or something, then I like that one. However, when putting on Slowdive’s new record everything is alive we both agree that lushness can be something great, because when there is a band with the ability to wrap you in a blanket and give you comfort that feels as lush as this one – then it’s a moment for the heart. Even though its background story is a very sad one.
To understand how this record came to be what it is, one should understand what happened in the life of vocalist and guitar player Rachel Goswell, who lost both her parents in 2020 and who wanted to write a rather minimalist record to cope with the loss. However, it should not have ended in something like Dark Night of the Soul, the amazing but still bleak collaboration between Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous who provided the music while David Lynch provided the visual elements. The record was released posthumously and one can sometimes get a glimpse of the darkness surrounding Linkous. Rachel however, wanted a minimalist record that would provide a bright line on the horizon, not just a glimmer but a real clear line. When the band came together and worked in their own democratic way on the record, however, the songs faced a change for the more opulent – and even though one can sometimes hear the sadness in some elements of the arrangement, or simply in Rachel’s vocals, this brighter sound is the asset the band has always going for themselves.
The record sounds like Slowdive, unmistakably. However, the change towards a kind of Synthwave-infused base for many songs is a very good one, and before anybody complains about a certain lack of Shoegaze-defining walls of sound and reverb, please remember that Slowdive was never My Bloody Valentine. They were always the poppy side of Shoegaze not looking to make the distortion the aim of a song but rather one element to get their ideas across. Even on several tracks of Souvlaki you notice that a frequent, ongoing use of huge walls of sound or white noise is not the trademark or destination. Here, on everything is alive we have a few, minor outbreaks into the somewhat heavier side, but they’re smaller in number.
The opener ”shanty” gives the travel itinerary for this voyage with its Synthwave basis, its slowly opening elements and meandering lines before the first distorted guitar line sets in and the steadfast drumming gives us something to hold onto. When the dual vocals of Goswell and Neil Halstead join in, the track is as much Slowdive as any previous song, because then that little extra bit of melody and melancholy is back and it shows an amazing new sound, which has many different little tidbits and will surely be a blast to hear live. Somehow that is the case for many of the new tracks – so hear them live will be an experience because the arrangements will become a bit louder and also more emotional.
Many tracks have the melancholy that comes from the loss of your parents, but they do not want to dwell in sorrow and pity; seemingly the rather bathe in the joy provided by the beloved deceased. Take ”andalucia plays” as another example: Neil’s vocals are really hushed but not choking, the drumming is so on point and the sparkling guitars radiate all the warmth of a day in Granada in early April – it is warm enough to walk around in shorts but it will not burn you. The track feels like a perfect hammock to lay in, watch the sun move overhead in the blue skies and feel, well, at ease and at peace.
These are the exactly the things I always seek in any Slowdive record: the intimacy, the musical perfection of making complex structures sound easy (mind you, easy, not simple!), the moments of utter floating along. They have achieved it again, maybe with a bit different means and starting from a different basis or mood, but they sure have done it again. Lushness in sound, reflection in nature and the warmest hug this side of 2023. I would bath in this record if possible, and maybe my wife will like Lush soap soon too, if I play this record in the bathroom.