Happy Birthday, Souvlaki!


Yesterday was the birthday of the great Rachel Goswell. As a guitarist, singer, and co-front of the legendary dreamgaze band Slowdive, she cranked out three of the most important records of the 1990s. Well, two anyway. Just for a Day(1991) and Souvlaki(1993) are records that helped define a label (Creation), a scene (shoegaze/dream-pop) and a decade that’s often called “the last golden age of music” (the 1990s). Pygmalion (1995) was an album that confused even some of their most devoted fans. I know that I was left scratching my head.

Souvlaki was released 22 years ago today in the UK. Several months later, it was released in the USA with a different track listing and different artwork. Being a huge fan, on the day, I plopped down the cash for the deluxe 2xCD edition (crecd 139x). The bonus disc is the beautiful Blue Day EP, which has seven fantastic songs. Remember the days when you had to get store clerk to put in a special order for your imported copy of some album that wasn’t yet available in the US? The shop I frequented already had a copy of this very limited edition 2xCD package on the shelf, and I didn’t hesitate to spend the exorbitant amount for it. It was $21.90 in 1993 US dollars. In today’s dollars, that would be $35.79, which would be an absurd amount of money to pay for a new release. However, it’s not really fair to compare 2015 dollars to 1993 dollars that way. It wasn’t out of the ordinary in 1993 to pay $13.99 or more for a new release. I was happy to pay an extra $8 for a bonus disc. The US release date wasn’t known at the time, and it turned out that it didn’t come out until February of 2014. It was a good investment because of that, and also because although I didn’t know it at the time, this particular release was apparently limited to 1000 copies. The album has been re-issued a number of times with bonus tracks and bonus discs, and I suspect that it will very soon be re-released in “deluxe and redux” glory.

Just for a Day may have charted higher in the UK, but Souvlaki is the album that everyone talks about when they talk about Slowdive. It’s the album that made people stop what they were doing and want to learn to play guitar. It’s the album that people have in their “best of the decade” lists. It’s the album that people still have in their “desert island” collection.

The album is a perfect combination of melodic shoegaze and the dreamiest of dream pop. It’s suitable for any time of day and any listening environment, but it’s really best to play this over real speakers, and play it loud. These days, I very rarely play physical copies through my real stereo, but that’s what I’m doing right now. Listening to this perfect album on big speakers through a real stereo.

It’s really hard to pick out a favourite song. A lot of people go with the bursting-at-the-seams “When the Sun Hits”, a lot with the album-opening “Alison”, a lot with the dreaminess of the restrained “Machine Gun”, a lot with the really ambient “Sing”, which was co-written by Brian Eno. Still others go with the acoustic album-closing heartbreaker “Dagger”. For a long while, I thought that the somewhat psychedelic, super-spacey, bass-heavy “Souvlaki Space Station” was my personal favorite. I know now that I can’t pick a favorite. But I definitely prefer Souvlaki to the other two albums. By a wide margin.

You should listen to this album as a whole. Just kick back with a beverage, turn up the volume and enjoy this. Let your worries melt away and allow the album to carry you to a different place. That’s one of the many things that I love so much about this album. Whenever I listen to it, I feel like I’m literally lifted off the ground. Not figuratively into the depths of the outer atmosphere, but literally a few feet above ground. I even feel like I’m lifted out of my own body. Whatever my “real world” problems are, I forget all about them for 40 minutes.

Of course I also love the co-ed vocals present on nearly every song. A lot of times they go back-and-forth. A lot of other times, either Rachel or Neil takes the vocal lead and they harmonize in the chorus. Either way works brilliantly for me. And I love that they were unafraid to put the bass so up-front on so many songs.

I’ve loved this record since the first time I heard it 22 years ago, and I’ll love it for many more years to come.

The band suggested through their Facebook page that there’ll be some “Souvlaki-related news soon”. This, I assume, is that they’re either re-releasing the album in “deluxe and redux” fashion, or doing one of those tours where they play the whole album front-to-back along with some of the non-album tracks.

Now, go pull out your physical copy of this album and play it loud!

About dlee

North Carolina born and bred. I'm a restaurant guy who spends free time listening to music, watching hockey and playing Scrabble. I have a bachelor's degree in political science and I will most likely never put it to use. View all posts by dlee

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