Gazing into the future

Two albums into a second life, Slowdive brings a dreamy sound from across the pond

Credit: Ingrid Pop

When a once-great band decides to give it another go after years of inactivity, the news is often met with a mixture of exhilaration and trepidation. Will they dilute their reputation, dimming the magic that made listeners fall in love in the first place, or bolster their status while bringing in new listeners? Such questions swirled around the return of English alt-rock legends Slowdive. Pioneers of the dreamy and distorted “shoegaze” subgenre, the band’s self-titled album in 2017 marked their first studio release in more than 20 years. But to hear co-founder Rachel Goswell tell it, those ambient concerns didn’t weigh on the process of making the critically lauded comeback LP.

“We did it without pressure of a record label, and we paid for it ourselves,” says Goswell, who has shared vocal and guitar duties with Neil Halstead since 1989 when the pair formed the band in Reading, Berkshire. “It was more about just seeing how we got on with it — and if it worked, then brilliant.”

Slowdive arrived during the buzzy swirl of shoegaze’s golden era in early-90s Britain, releasing some of the most beloved and enduring music of the scene before calling it quits just six years into their existence. Reemerging in 2014 to play the festival circuit, and now nearly a decade into a fruitful reunion, they are back with a new album — the sublime everything is alive —  and a U.S. tour coming to Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver on Oct. 6. 

“We needed to see how we were together after such a long break and how we got on,” Goswell says of the band’s second life. “Obviously, things snowballed for us in a way that we couldn’t have imagined was going to happen. We didn’t want to just do the Heritage Trail, you know? There are a lot of bands out there who do that, but I think we all are, in our own rights, quite creative people, so it made sense just to do more music.”

The fifth LP by Slowdive 'everything is alive' was released Sept. 1
Slowdive’s fifth LP ‘everything is alive’ was released Sept. 1 via Dead Oceans.

No dinosaur act

From the opening moments of everything is alive, it’s clear this is still Slowdive, but not in a way that merely retreads the same old path. The wash of sound that fans are familiar with continues to oscillate between melancholy and euphoria, but the electronic base that Halstead developed during the album’s gestation adds a tasteful newness to the mix. This is no dinosaur act out on one last prowl; this is a contemporary band continuing to push themselves. And Goswell says a new generation of listeners seem to be tuning in.

“In Auckland, there was a young girl in front of Christian [Savill, bassist] and I who I swear must have been only about 12 right at the front barrier,” she says of the band’s recent jaunt to Australia and New Zealand. “It’s really lovely, and it reminds me of me when I was that age going to gigs — and I would always be at the front barrier as well. So I think part of it for me is remembering that feeling of how I used to feel seeing my favorite bands and how exciting it was, and being really conscious about that.”

Like the band’s previous work, everything is alive is an album meant to be experienced as a whole; its constituent parts lock into each other in a way a stray track just can’t match. This is something Goswell feels is missing from the contemporary streaming landscape. 

“I think there is an importance in listening to a record through from beginning to end because it takes you on that journey,” says the 52-year-old artist who fondly remembers saving her paper-route money as a kid to buy a new album each month. “And I’m sure for all bands really that’s a consideration in how they deliver albums. So I kind of wish the shuffle option didn’t exist.”

But the changes of a new era haven’t dulled Slowdive’s momentum, as the band continues to enjoy perhaps the most glowing critical response of their career. It’s a contrast to the early days of the band, when the ascendance of Britpop  saw the fickle, trend-hopping British press quickly turn on shoegaze. While the critical barbs hurt at the time, Goswell is happy for the warmer reception of Slowdive’s resurrection.

“When you’re younger, it’s much more bothering having that kind of criticism, and a lot of it did feel very unfair and like being bullied or picked on at school,” she says. “[But] one thing we’ve always done is release the records we want to make. It’s very nice to have the love that Slowdive get now. It’s a lovely thing and it’s fantastic to be able to go out on tour and play for people. It is one of the things that I love the most about being in a band — just that energy exchange you get with an audience at a gig.” 

ON THE BILL: Slowdive with Drab Majesty. 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom, 2637 Walton St., Denver. Sold out.