Growing up is scary. When you’re young, it feels like the fountain of youth will never stop flowing. But the Earth keeps turning whether we like it or not, and one day you will wake up with wrinkles on your forehead and crow’s feet by your eyes, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It is easy to get swept up in the uncontrollable nature of it all and submit to the cruelty of the aging process. After all, how does one cope with something so ever-present and fleeting as time? According to UK indie rock band Slowdive, even the inevitable passage of time can be something beautiful.
On everything is alive, Slowdive’s newest release, the legendary dream pop quintet rises again without a triumphant bang, instead harboring a more stripped-back sound and the emotional weight necessary to back it up. In the world of everything is alive, the kids from the Slowdive of years past have long grown up, but, as the band echoes in the album, maybe that’s okay. But for veteran fans, a question still hangs in the air: will the music suffer in the absence of Slowdive’s signature youthful spirit?
As Slowdive’s comeback after six years, their fifth LP overall, everything is alive had a lot of expectations attached to it upon announcement. However, after the album’s official release on September 1, many fans were disappointed by the short tracklist and the record’s more prominent pop-influence.
In my opinion, the album actually shows great restraint, boasting a limited run of only eight tracks–any longer, and everything is alive would’ve been bloated and greatly hurt by its own ambition (a problem that Slowdive has run into many times before).
The opening track “shanty” begins with an echo of classic Slowdive–otherworldly, conflicted, and guitar-heavy–but quickly grabs the listener with its skilled incorporation of synthesizers into the band’s otherwise typical sound. The lush and intricate production of Slowdive’s most famous pieces is apparent on “shanty,” and this works greatly in the track’s favor. The layers upon layers of synthesizer, guitar, and reverb, paint the landscape of a lone ship on a vast, stormy sea, with the listener on board as the protagonist. The tide is rising as the music swells, our rapid heartbeat evident within the ever-present ba-bump of Simon Scott’s drums and the twinkly onslaught of his synth work. Rachel Goswell’s iconic back-up vocals are just as mesmerizing, ghostly, and unintelligible as ever, rocking our boat back and forth as the sounds ebb and flow before we finally capsize and fade gently into the following track, “prayer remembered.”
This is a common theme showcased throughout the entire album. Every song elicits intense, vivid sensations and emotions from the listener, and while some of the tracks can sound a bit similar at times, each song flows with each other extremely well like a life fully realized. Even melodies themselves on everything is alive feel less like musical formalities and more like living beings with their own thoughts, feelings, and free will. That is everything is alive’s truest strength; its ever-evolving concepts and emotions capture the beauty present within the rockiness of growing up and aging perfectly.The album demonstrates this theme from the tranquility of settling into a new routine on “andalucia plays” to the intense build-up and death featured on closing track, “the slab.”
Lead vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Neil Halstead is absent from the production front on most of Slowdive’s popular works, namely their sophomore album Souvlaki, but his production on everything is alive helps to breathe life into the sound of the LP. The various textures featured on the record are interesting for longtime fans yet also accessible to new listeners. Some of the album’s detractors say that the production harkens back too much to old Slowdive, but I thoroughly disagree. Slowdive experiments a lot on this album with electronics and synthesizers not seen much on their previous works. In fact, their classic Slowdive style of production becomes a much-needed callback to the band’s roots. That element of nostalgia present in the production strengthens everything is alive’s emphasis on both time and growing up that hits even harder for fans of the band.
That said, the production across a few of the tracks, especially “prayer remembered” and “alife,” can sound pretty similar at times, and that combined with the heavily-reverbed vocals and guitars–one of the record’s greatest musical strengths and weaknesses–make the album lull quite a bit after the opening track before quickly picking up steam again with “andalucia plays” and lead single “kisses.”
Overall, everything is alive is not perfect. What it is, is a well-made, unique dream pop record and even one of my favorite albums released this year. It has many emotional highs and carries the same delightful qualities present in the Slowdive of years past. Is everything is alive up to the same standard as Slowdive’s best? No. But is it well worth your time? Absolutely.
Listen to the album: