Tag Archives: Slowdive

Slowdive at Cat’s Cradle

Rachel Goswell of Slowdive

As everybody around here knows, I’ve been a huge fan of Slowdive for 25 years. I really liked their 1991 debut album Just for a Day, but their 1993 sophomore album Souvlaki totally blew me away. That was way before the days of Amazon and before the days of being able to order things directly at the click of a button. I got very lucky, and I was able to pick up an import copy of the CD, which came out several months before the US release. It also featured a bonus disc of the Blue Day EP. As it turns out, there were only 1000 of those made, but I didn’t know that at the time. I assumed that they, like every other band of their ilk, would tour the US and hit the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and/or the old 1313 Club in Charlotte. They didn’t. In the summer of 93, they played Atlanta and DC, but I held out, assuming that they would be around some other time. The next summer, they didn’t come any closer than DC during a very short North American tour which ended with a now famous show in Toronto. Nobody knew it at the time, but that Toronto show would be their last for 20 years.

The band’s third album Pygmalion came out in 1995, and fans were somewhat confused. It wasn’t shoegaze. It wasn’t dream pop. It was a spacey, experimental piece that sounded very little like the Slowdive that I loved. That record has a lot of negative space and a lot of really really slow-burning stuff. I never really cottoned to that record, but I thought that it might just be a weird bump in their road. Again, nobody knew it at the time, but they were pretty much done at that point. They didn’t tour with that record, and it was soon announced that the band had been dropped by Creation Records. Britpop was king, and while some bands would adapt with the changing landscape, they didn’t. It would also later come out that Rachel had suffered some significant hearing loss and couldn’t really play loud music anymore.

The folky Mojave 3 rose from the ashes of Slowdive, and that band featured Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead, and Ian McCutcheon all out of Slowdive. I liked that band a lot, and I did get to see them twice, but I always lamented the fact that I never saw Slowdive.

A couple of years ago, the band announced that they were reforming for some festival shows. And then the huge news came out that they would put out a new album and go on a proper tour. When the first batch of US dates was announced, the closest gig was in DC. Later, to my complete delight, they announced a Cat’s Cradle show, which would be their first time playing in North Carolina as Slowdive.

The new eponymous album came out last Friday, and I finally got to see them last night. It was everything I was hoping for and then some.

Neil Halstead of Slowdive

They played a good mix of new songs and stuff from the other three albums. To be honest, I was expecting a set heavy with new songs and Souvlaki stuff. As it turns out, they only played three of the new songs. I was really anticipating my favorite songs from Souvlaki, though: “Alison”, “When the Sun Hits”, “Souvlaki Space Station”. I was pleased with all of those, although I thought “When the Sun Hits” sounded a bit muddy. They also played “40 Days” as the last song of the encore. After there were some difficulties with the PA system, they decided to play on, and pretty much did it through their monitors.

They also played a Slowdive show mainstay in their cover of the Syd Barrett song “Golden Hair” as the last song of the main set. I’ve seen videos of them performing that song, and I had high expectations. They were certainly met last night.

Nick Chaplin of Slowdive

All of that was great, but the highlight of the night was something that came as a complete surprise to me. Early in the set, they launched into very gently nudged off into “Crazy for You”, which I always thought was a perfect badge for what I didn’t love about Pygmalion. On the album, it’s very spacey, very sparse, very minimal. Almost too much. It’s got loads of delay and a cool piano bit, but it doesn’t do a ton for me. When performed live, however, it’s a completely different animal. The drums were heavy and fierce. The guitars were fiery and vibrant. It was in complete contrast to the album version, and I absolutely loved it. Later, they would do a similar thing with “Blue Skied an’ Clear”, giving it lots of life that I never knew it had.

There were, admittedly, a few hiccups during the show, and there was a problem with the PA going in and out towards the end of the show, but I thought it was a brilliant night.

I also must admit that I did not enjoy the opening set by The Casket Girls. Their 2014 album True Love Kills the Fairy Tale was my favourite album of that year. Number one. I’ve really liked all of their albums, but I had heard many times that they aren’t as good live as they are on record. That turned out to be true. There was a lot of disharmony in their voices and some of their choreography was goofy. They also played about two songs too many.

For other parts of this US tour, Slowdive had Japanese Breakfast as their special guest, and I would have loved to have seen them. But the reality is that we were all there for one reason and one reason only: Slowdive.

I loved the show, and I’m really glad that I finally got to check them off my list.


February 15, 2017 — “Avalyn II” as covered by White Cascade

Just For a Life: An Homage to Slowdive

Just For a Life: An Homage to Slowdive

If you only listen to one cover song tonight, make it “Avalyn II”, as covered by White Cascade (2017, from the compilation tribute album Just For a Life: An Homage to Slowdive). The song was, of course, originally done by Slowdive on their 1990 eponymous debut EP.

White Cascade is a shoegaze trio from Raleigh, North Carolina. I first learned about this band when I saw them open for Ringo Deathstarr in Durham a few years ago, and I’ve written about them a couple of times before (September 6, 2015, and March 14, 2014).

The members of the band are all called Matt, and they are Guess (guitars/vocals/programming), Cash (bass/vocals), and Robbins (drums/engineering). They’ve released a couple of EPs and an album called Endless.

There have been several exciting updates from the Slowdive camp in the last few months. They’re back together. They’re making new music. They’re touring the USA this spring. The most exciting, though, is that they’re playing at my favourite club, which is just a short 40-minute drive from my house. I’ve loved Slowdive passionately for more than 25 years, and their Souvlaki is among my five favourite albums of all time. It’s always been one of my saddest stories that I never got the chance to see them play back in the day. They toured the USA in 1992, 93, and 94, but they never came close enough for me to go. They’ve never played the Cat’s Cradle. When they announced their USA tour dates for 2017, I was saddened to see that they weren’t coming here. However, I was thrilled to find out last Wednesday that they added the Cat’s Cradle to their tour, and I actually found out about it via a Facebook post by White Cascade member Matt Guess. Naturally, I snagged tickets the very second they went on sale and I’ll finally be able to check that one off my bucket list, leaving only MBV on my list of seminal 90s shoegaze bands that I’ve never seen.

Yesterday, The Blog That Celebrates Itself released another in a long line of fantastic tribute albums. The newest one is a tribute to Slowdive, and the first song on the tribute is by White Cascade.

“Avalyn II”, which is a longer and more spacey version of “Avalyn I”, was on Slowdive’s first EP way back in 1990. When the band’s first three EPs were compiled as the Blue Day EP in 1992, “Avalyn II” was oddly left off. The Blue Day EP was a bonus disc in the limited edition of Souvlaki, which I am lucky enough to have a copy of.

I don’t actually have the original of “Avalyn II” in my personal library, but I do know that this is a fantastic, albeit shorter, cover of it. This is that song.

“Avalyn II”, as covered by White Cascade

It’s a little fuzzier and louder than the original version, but overall, it’s pretty faithful. And we like the noise.

I’ve listened to most of the tribute album, and this one is far and away my favourite. To be fair though, there’s plenty of great stuff on there, and there are a few bands I’ve written about before. As is usually the case, there are a few Brazilian bands I’ve never heard of on the comp, and a bunch of bands from all over the globe with varying styles and varying methods of interpretation. It’s all quite good.

You can download a copy of Just For a Life by naming your price at Bandcamp here.

You can see Slowdive’s tour dates on their official web page here. Tickets are still available for the Cat’s Cradle show on May 10 here. I will be a very happy man that night.


January 13, 2017 — “Star Roving” by Slowdive

Slowdive

Slowdive

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Star Roving” by Slowdive (2017, from a forthcoming release title to come).
Yesterday, shoegaze/dream pop pioneers Slowdive released a new song, their first in 22 years. They turned a bunch of heads and won favour with the fickle British music press with their 1991 debut Just For a Day. I always liked that record very much, but it’s not my favourite of theirs.

In 1993, Slowdive released their seminal Souvlaki, which was initially given mixed reviews by the press. By that time, shoegaze and dream pop had fallen out of fashion because Britpop was the big thing. It didn’t sell as well or chart as well as Just For a Day, but it was one of my top five records of the decade, and in my top 10 of all time. With the passage of time, the same writers who didn’t like it have come round, and now it’s universally revered.

In 1995, the band released a very strange, very experimental album Pygmalion. It’s really spacey and they used a lot of electronics. There’s a lot of quiet bits and a lot of negative space. It was given nice reviews, but it didn’t sell worth a damn, and I never cared for that record. Shortly after the release of the album, the band was dropped by Creation Records, and shortly after that, the band ceased operations.

After the breakup of Slowdive, principal songwriters Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell formed the country-tinged Mojave 3 along with Slowdive drummer Ian McCutcheon. They released five albums, but were never as well-known as Slowdive. In 2006, Goswell announced that she would no longer tour with the band because of a sudden, dramatic loss of hearing in her left ear and lingering issues with tinnitus.

Halstead and Goswell each released solo records and they each collaborated with lots of different people, but for years there was never so much as a whisper of a reunion.

In January of 2014, the band announced that they would reunite, and they played a few festival shows to delighted audiences. They said there would eventually be new material, but we didn’t know when we would get it.

Meanwhile, Halstead was working with a few projects, including Black Hearted Brother. Last year, Goswell joined forces with Stuart Braithwaite out of Mogwai to form Minor Victories. Their self-titled debut record absolutely blew me away. It was my favourite record of the year. (Yes, there will eventually be a year-end list). Hearing loss or not, Goswell toured with Minor Victories, and she played those Slowdive shows. All signs were still pointing to new Slowdive material.

Yesterday, we finally, officially got a new song. This is that song.
“Star Roving” by Slowdive

At this point, we don’t know any details about a forthcoming album, but they’ve certainly suggested that one is on the way.

I like this a lot, and I’m thrilled that they’ve gotten back to the tasty, noisy stuff. In a way, it’s like a perfect medium between the beautiful melodies of Just For a Day and the beautiful noise of Souvlaki. I can’t wait to hear more.


February 23, 2016 — “A Hundred Ropes” by Minor Victories

Minor Victories

If you only watch one music video today, make it “A Hundred Ropes” by Minor Victories (2016, from the forthcoming album Minor Victories).

Minor Victories is a UK indie rock supergroup formed by Rachel Goswell out of Slowdive and Mojave 3 (vocals), Stuart Braithwaite out of Mogwai (guitar), Justin Lockey out of Editors (guitar, electronics), and filmmaker James Lockey. The two Lockey boys formed a film/video production company called Hand Held Cine Club. They’ve made a lot of music videos. Back in October, I shared a video of “Faultlines” by Lanterns on The Lake. That’s a Hand Held Cine Club production. They’ve also worked with Frightened Rabbit a bunch of times, The Twilight Sad, and many others.

The supergroup formed late last year, and yesterday they released details about their forthcoming album. There’ll be ten songs and the self-titled album will be out on June 3 via Fat Possum. Braithwaite said somewhere (I’ll apologize for not providing a source) that if you follow the bands that the individual members are in, you won’t be surprised at all by what the supergroup sounds like. Today’s song certainly sounds like Mogwai and Slowdive mushed together. One of the album’s ten songs features The Twilight Sad vocalist James Graham, while another will feature Mark Kozelek out of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. I’ll leave my commentary about Mark Kozelek out of this conversation other than to say that he and Goswell have teamed up together to do a magnificent cover of John Denver’s “Around and Around”. I wrote about that here.

As far as this Minor Victories album goes, I’ve only heard this one song, and I love it. I’m predicting that the album will land somewhere in the top ten of my year-end list. For now, this is that song. Or at least that video.

“A Hundred Ropes” by Minor Victories

Warriors charging into the fray. Super-slow motion. Monochrome. A lot of Hand Held Cine videos use some elements of slow motion, and a lot of them also use muted colors or monochrome. A lot of them are also dark both in hue and in theme. There’s certainly all of that going on. I read that this was done in one shot, and that it’s only ten seconds of real time. Lockey’s making a bit of a statement with videos like this. This and the others are sort of “anti-videos”. Most music videos are so bright and vibrant. Most are cut so many times so people can have their sensory overload and not get bored by watching the same thing for more than three seconds. He’s making videos that are completely opposite that. Read the Pitchfork article for more on that.

I love the pace and the rhythm of the song. Rachel’s vocals are perfect, and I don’t know what else to say. Play this a lot and play it LOUD.

The album releases on June 3, and you can pre-order it via the Minor Victories store here.


Happy Birthday, Souvlaki!

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!


11.06.2014 — “’94” by Manon Meurt

Manon Meurt

If you only listen to one song today, make it “’94” by Manon Meurt (2014, from the Manon Meurt EP).

Manon Meurt is a dream pop/shoegaze quartet from Rakovnik, Czech Republic. They formed in 2010 and used to call themselves Katie & The Accessories. In 2013, they changed their name to Manon Meurt. It’s probably a safe assumption that the band name comes from the 18th century French short novel Manon Lescaut, by Abbé Prévost. The titular character dies a tragic death in the end. Manon dies. Manon meurt.

I don’t know anything about this band. I stumbled upon a different song while I was working on a different post and I promised myself that I would write about them as soon as I could.

Judging from the songs that I’ve heard, the band is influenced by Slowdive more than any other band, but certainly by the whole UK shoegaze/dream pop movement in the early to mid 1990s.

There are six songs on the self-titled EP, and they’re all great. This isn’t the first song that I heard, but it’s the one that I like the most at the moment.

“’94” by Manon Meurt

It’s a bit of a slow burner. I love the way that it starts off so very gently. The ringing guitar bit balanced heavily to the left channel and Káta Elznicová’s soft vocals heavily to the right. For the first 90 seconds, that’s all there is, and it’s quite soothing. By 1:31, the drums creep in, and slowly, the bass and other guitar come in. By 3:00, the audio balance is pretty level and the song starts to pick up the pace and intensity.

Between 3:00 and 4:24, there’s a steady ascent to its dizzying height. During this section, I’m reminded of Cranes. Not any song in particular, but just very Cranes-y in a general kind of way. Obviously Káta Elznicová doesn’t have a singing style that’s anything close to Alison Shaw’s very distinctive voice, but there’s something about the whole package that reminds me of Cranes.

For extra credit, here’s a video of the band playing ” ’94” live.

For even more extra credit, here’s a video of the band playing a cover of “When the Sun Hits” by Slowdive. The quality of the recording isn’t fantastic, but they’re playing the song well and adding their own touch:

You can buy a download of Manon Meurt from the bandcamp page here. If it matters, 100 Czech koruna is equal to about $4.50 USD, €3.60, or £2.81.


Slowdive reunion is official, new material is possible

As of a couple of hours ago, the rumours of a Slowdive reunion have been confirmed.

The band members have been counting down to January 29 on their personal twitter feeds, and a Slowdive twitter feed was set up a couple of weeks ago.

A lot of people put two and two together, noting the scheduled date for the announcement of the lineup for this year’s Primavera Sound Festival in Barcelona and the band’s countdown. This was all confirmed today when the festival announced that Slowdive will indeed be playing the festival.

The band’s website, which launched a few days ago, went from a tease screen to a live website today with the same announcement.

Not only that, but the band has hinted at new material. A full interview will run tomorrow in The Quietus, but here’s a sneak peak.

Naturally, the reunion and the suggestion of new material makes me put Slowdive at the very top of my wishlist of bands for the 2014 Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh on September 4-6. I realize that a lot of things have to fall into the right place at the right time to make that a reality, but it’s my top wish.

Stay tuned.


%d bloggers like this: