Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Originally Written and Posted at on 9/28/08

After the release of 1993's Souvlaki, Slowdive reached a peak into the career both creatively and critically. Though the shoegaze genre they were apart of was in decline, the band kept the genre alive through its devoted followers. After a problematic U.S. tour due to distribution trouble from SBK Records, longtime drummer Simon Scott left the band due to creative tension. Replaced by Ian McCutcheon, the band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Neil Halstead, vocalist/guitarist Rachel Goswell, guitarist Christian Savill, and bassist Nick Chaplin forged ahead with their next record. Yet, the band's label Creation Records was already in the midst of moving ahead towards pop music after just signing Oasis to the label. Tension between the label and Neil Halstead over the band's next record emerged as Halstead went ahead to record the band's third and final album entitled Pygmalion.

Produced by Chris Hufford with seven of the nine songs written by Neil Halstead with the other two co-written with Rachel Goswell. Pygmalion is an album that marks as a huge departure from Slowdive. Moving further away from the shoegaze sound of their two previous album in favor of ambient textures, organic presentation, and minimalist arrangements. The album is a moody exploration into the ambient music genre as it's less pop-driven than previous records. Though fans of the band's earlier work might feel a bit baffled by the genre exploration. The result is a wonderful, dream-like farewell from Slowdive.

The ten-minute album opener Rutti is a ballad filled with just soft, washy guitar flourishes and Neil Halstead's haunting vocals. After two minutes of just vocal and guitar playing, shaking percussions and arpeggio-laden chimes join in along with soft drum tracks. Halstead's haunting vocals and moody lyrics set up the tone for what is to come for the entire album in its tone. Crazy For You is another ballad-driven track filled with soothing, arpeggio-guitar chimes accompanied by swift guitar washes and flourishing ambient textures. With Halstead going into a dream-like vocal range filled with imagery-laden lyrics, his vocals is filled with echo effects by its production as soft, mid-tempo drums are played along with spurts of guitar feedback. Miranda is an eerie, acoustic track filled with ambient guitar swirls in the background as a melodic acoustic guitar track plays through. With Rachel Goswell singing through her ethereal vocals, the song features loops of chants and such as Goswell sings esoteric lyrics in this ambient-drone track.

Trellisaze is an eerie, down-tempo track with warbling, tribal beats, echo-laden vocals, and shimmering guitar washes and arpeggio melodies. With eerie atmosphere tracks in the background with its shimmering guitar drones and warbling vocals, it's definitely one of the most haunting cuts on the record. Cello is a brooding yet eerie instrumental track led by ambient-laden guitar drones that plays through with sparse arrangements under a minute and forty-five seconds. J's Heaven arrives with its vibrato guitar shimmers and acoustic-like washes as Rachel Goswell sings through indistinct lyrics and ethereal, dream-like vocals. With droning guitar backgrounds and minimalist arrangements that include an array of percussion tracks, it's definitely one of the band's best songs.

Visions Of La is a short, acoustic ballad led by Rachel Goswell as she sings in a haunting vocal delivery filled with her melancholic lyrics with Neil Halstead accompanying her on an acoustic guitar. Blue Skied an' Clear is a six-minute, fifty-four second track with a smooth bass line, soft percussion beats, vibrato guitars, and Halstead's haunting, ethereal vocals filled with echo effects and somber lyrics. With its vibrato, arpeggio section in the chorus, Halstead's dream-like vocals is accompanied by an ethereal vocal background as it is laden with its ambient textures and arrangements. The song is clearly one of the band's most defining moments in terms of creating dream-like atmosphere mixed in with ambient music. The album closer All Of Us is an acoustic ballad led by its slow, plucking acoustic style accompanied by soft, droning guitar background and Halstead's haunting vocals. With a cello playing in the background, it's a fitting closer to the entire album as it ends on a soothing note.

When it was released in February of 1995, the album was met with very little reaction as it was released with no promotion or anticipation. A week after its release, Slowdive was dropped by Creation Records along with fellow shoegaze band Swervedriver. Slowdive immediately disbanded as Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and Ian McCutcheon formed Mojave 3 with ex-Chapterhouse guitarist Simon Rowe. The rest of the band formed various projects in the wake of Slowdive's dissolution. Pygmalion came and went as copies for the album at the time of its release were scarce while remained unreleased in the U.S. In 2005, just as Sanctuary Records reissued the band's two previous albums, Pygmalion was also reissued but unlike its predecessors, came with no extra material.

Despite only releasing three albums in a short period of time, Slowdive however proved to be influential. Tribute albums and covers by 4AD label outfit The Hope Blister were made while controversial Asian-American film director Gregg Araki put the band's music in his films. In 2004, a two-disc compilation entitled Catch the Breeze was released just as the band was being discovered. A year later when their albums were reissued, it's clear that Slowdive is finding an audience again though Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell are still continuing their various solo projects as well as Mojave 3.

While Pygmalion may not have the diversity or melodic-pop flourishes of its predecessor, Souvlaki. The album is still a brilliant record from Slowdive in its exploration of ambient music. Fans of the band will be happy that it's out though not in big music-selling chains while it's easily available through peer-to-peer file sharing sites. Though shoegaze purists might lean toward the band's previous two albums, they will find satisfaction into the band's exploration into a genre that is not very mainstream. In the end, for something sparse, to-the-point, esoteric, and experimental, Slowdive's Pygmalion is the album to get.

Slowdive Albums: Just for a Day - Souvlaki

(C) thevoid99 2011

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