Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/27/08.
Following the release of Just For a Day, Slowdive were becoming the darlings of the British indie music scene and the shoegaze genre just as it was reaching its peak in the fall of 1991. When their record was released a year later in the U.S., they got attention from the American indie scene as they toured with fellow shoegaze act Ride where two released a 7" split single. With the genre suddenly in decline with the attention towards the American grunge scene and the upcoming arrival of Brit-pop, Slowdive continued to move forward as they also got the attention of the legendary Brian Eno. The former Roxy Music keyboardist who created ambient music as well as producing works for such artists as David Bowie, Talking Heads, and U2.
Produced by Chris Hufford and Martin Nichols, Souvlaki is an album that takes Slowdive's dreamy, shoegaze sound and expand it with more music styles such as reggae dub, country, and ambient music. With Brian Eno making contributions for two tracks, the album features many songs written by its leader/vocalist/guitarist Neil Halstead while vocalist/guitarist Rachel Goswell co-writes a song with him. Along with guitarist Christian Savill, bassist Nick Chaplin, and drummer Simon Scott, Slowdive would create an album that isn't just considered their best work. It is said to be one of the last great records of the shoegaze genre.
The album opens with its leading single Alison with its bouncy, mid-tempo rhythm courtesy of Simon Scott's drums and Nick Chaplin's bass with accompaniment from the triple-guitar work of Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, and Christian Savill with its drones and arpeggio melodies. With Halstead's dreamy, swooning vocals filled with dream-like lyrics, Goswell joins him on the chorus along with wailing guitar drones that shimmer through the song. Machine Gun is a smoother yet mid-tempo number led by shimmering guitar chimes, bouncy bass line, and Goswell's ethereal vocals. Halstead joins in for a verse as he's accompanying himself with a washy, rhythmic acoustic guitar as it warbles with its arpeggio chimes and drones as it moves back and forth in structure. 40 Days is an up tempo, thumping number with its driving beats and droning guitars as Halstead sings a more bass-like vocal style reminiscent of the vocal style of the Jesus & Mary Chain. With Goswell accompanying on vocals, it's esoteric lyrics and wailing guitars reveal the band delving into something diverse in its dream-pop style.
Next is Sing, a song written by the band along with Brian Eno on keyboards, a brooding, mid-tempo track with shimmering guitars, ambient-style keyboards, and a smooth, pounding drum fill. The song is led by Rachel Goswell's eerie, haunting vocals filled with dark lyrics as Eno's keyboards accompany the song that explores elements of ambient music. Eno appears again in Here She Comes, a ballad filled with arpeggio-laden riffs and soft, tribal percussions as Halstead sings the song with his descriptive, harrowing lyrics. Souvlaki Space Station is a mid-tempo track with heavy bass lines, ominous drum fills, washy guitar shimmers, and droning guitar swoons. With Goswell leading through indistinct, dream-like vocals, the song is filled with warbling rhythms and droning guitar sirens. When The Sun Hits is a swooning, mid-tempo track with washy guitar rhythms filled with arpeggio chimes and Halstead's smooth vocals. With snare fills coming in for a mid-tempo rhythm and droning guitar accompaniments, Halstead's imagery-laden lyrics lead the way as the song moves back and forth from atmosphere to more rhythmic-driven.
Altogether is an atmospheric, ethereal ballad filled with swooning guitars, slow rhythms, and Halstead's smooth, engaging vocals. With Goswell singing backup, the song is filled with dream-like lyrics and swirling guitar spurts as it's a moody ballad that plays up to the band's dream-pop stature. Melon Yellow is another ballad that's more haunting and has an ominous rhythm with Halstead singing in an atmospheric, eerie vocal style. With its swooning, droning guitars and melodic arpeggio accompaniment, it's the band delving into darker territory. The album closer is Dagger, an acoustic ballad with Halstead leading the way as he sings haunting lyrics with his smooth vocals. With Goswell joining in for the second verse, the song is accompanied by soft, swirling guitars as it continues to its acoustic presentation.
In the original U.S. single-disc version of the album released in 1994 include four bonus tracks that also appears in the 2005 deluxe reissue from Sanctuary as part of the album's second disc. First is a cover of the Lee Hazelwood-Nancy Sinatra duet Some Velvet Morning. With its smooth, driving presentation of mid-tempo drums, bouncy bass, and shimmering guitar drones, Neil Halstead sings the song's cosmic lyrics as it includes tempo changes to something slower and dreamier with Rachel Goswell's vocals. Good Day Sunshine, not a cover of the Beatles song, is a throbbing, experimental instrumental track with sputtering beats and ambient, arpeggio-laden guitar melodies. With atmospheric production and guitar flourishes playing through, it's the band experimenting with ambient music that would continue further with their next album.
Missing You is another instrumental track that continues to explore electronic music with its throbbing, thumping beats, swooning guitars swirls, and hypnotic ambient overtones. With its ambient guitar drones and warbling beats and electronic shutter rhythms, it's the band going further into the world of electronic music. The final bonus track is Country Rain, written by Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell that explores the band's interest in country music. Though the track is mostly electronic driven with its ambient overtones of electronic beats and Goswell's ethereal vocals, it's the ringing guitar work that adds an element of country music to the mix. The track also serves as a template for what Halstead and Goswell would do years later with their own band, Mojave 3.
Five tracks appearing in the second disc deluxe version of the 2005 reissue of the album include three additional tracks and two remixes. First is So Tired, a slow yet mid-tempo number with loud, washy guitar riffs, an ominous rhythm, and Rachel Goswell's haunting, dream-like vocals. With its hazy lyrics and washy, rhythm guitars with spurts of feedback drones as Neil Halstead joins in for the third verse. Moussaka Chaos is a near six-and-a-half minute instrumental suite filled with swirling, atmospheric guitar drones, chugging ambient backgrounds, and a pounding bass beat. With the guitars continuing to shimmer and drone, the track intensifies with its beats and a bouncy bass line by Nick Chaplin. In Mind is another electronic-driven track with its driving, thumping electronic beats and swooning synthesizer background. With its sputtering, wall-to-wall snare beats, Goswell sings the song with her ethereal, soothing vocals as it delves into electronic and ambient music with an array of beats as Goswell's vocals are the highlight.
Two remixes of In Mind appear in the record that continues the band's exploration into ambient music. The first is an eight-minute remix by Bandulu, filled with Goswell's vocals and swooning synthesizer backgrounds that's driven by its fast, sputtering electro-beats. With breaks of soothing, ambient swirls and soft bass beats, it's a strange yet soothing remix. The second remix by Reload, a moniker of Global Communication act Mark Pritchard, is a ten-minute, twenty-five second remix. With its sputtering, metallic, tribal-like beats and swirling layers of electronic sequences, the ambient-driven track filled with soothing synthesizers and bass-heavy beats. With Goswell's vocals popping up, it's remix is a testament to the exploration of ambient techno with spurts of noisy electronics and vocal swirls. Though its length might test more mainstream listeners, fans of esoteric music might enjoy it.
When the album was released in summer of 1993, it was immediately hailed by critics and fans of the declining shoegaze genre as a landmark album. Often considered by fans and critics as their best album, Slowdive were riding high in the U.K. despite the decline in the shoegaze genre. Yet, their attempts to breakthrough in the U.S. proved to be troubling as distribution troubles with their U.S. label SBK Records who released the album in February of 1994 with four extra tracks. Things got worse during the band's American tour to promote the album that got cut halfway short due to funding as the band continued to tour with their own funding. After the tour, creative tension emerged as Simon Scott left the group as he was replaced by Ian McCutcheon.
Souvlaki is a brilliant, hypnotic, and versatile album from Slowdive. Fans of the shoegaze genre and Slowdive must have this record as it's one of the genre's finest moments. Anyone interested in Slowdive outside of compilation releases must pick this record up though on retail, it's very hard to find. Thanks to contributions from Brian Eno and the band's exploration beyond the genre towards ambient, dub reggae, and country music. It's definitely the band's best album. In the end, for a record that's soothing, noisy, and willing to sooth you down, Souvlaki is the album to get from Slowdive.
(C) thevoid99 2011