90s score: 7.5/10
2020 score: 8.5/10
If America ended the millennium with grunge, the UK did the same with shoegaze. Both genres brought a focus back to guitar music and initially found success through DIY labels, forming the bedrock for what is now collectively known as “indie” music. In that vein, the perfect contrast to an album such as Alice in Chains’ Dirt would be the timeless classic Souvlaki. Slowdive’s sophomore album may not have the mainstream reputation as it’s contemporaries across the pond, but, two and a half decades later, it’s influence and revival are probably as strong as they’ve ever been.
The album opens up with their biggest song, “Alison,” setting the tone perfectly for the next 40 minutes. Spacey, droning sounds with an underlying rock ‘n roll drive make for a sound that one could easily get lost in for hours. It’s no wonder that the term “dream-pop” comes up whenever Slowdive and the likes are mentioned. Upon hearing this album for the first time, I thought it was a tad bit mellow, but a few listens brought out the intricacies and dynamics hidden underneath the layers of delays and reverb. Stepping away from the accessible and extremely popular digital synthesizers of the 90s, Slowdive craft their monstrous textures through the creative use of guitar effects. The vocals of Halstead and Goswell defy expectations of hooks or extended range, instead they work seamlessly with the instrumental to heighten their ethereal sound. “40 Days” is a great example of keeping vocals somewhat catchy without detracting from the mood of the album. “Souvlaki Space Station” and “When The Sun Hits” are amongst the most important highlights for this release and I’m glad to see they still receive a healthy amount of streams.
I honestly have a hard time giving criticism to Slowdive’s work as I believe their intentions were masterfully executed. That being said, there’s a reason this album isn’t a 10. As I mentioned before, the songs on this album aren’t the most energetic. I get that its part of the sound, but unfortunately this allows for lesser tracks to become forgettable; they end up drowned out by the bigger hits. A change in pace or variations in the guitar style would have made listening to this album a less tiring experience. I’m also not too fond of hiding the drums behind a wall of warped synths and guitars, although sometimes efficient in creating a psychedelic experience, it can hamper the drive of the song if carried on for too long.
As we have observed over the past decade, the influence of shoegaze and especially that of Souvlaki remains untouched. Bands such as DIIV, Alvvays, Beach House, early Tame Impala, and even Clairo have Slowdive to thank for establishing sonic experimentation and obscured vocals as key components to modern-day indie. If you ever need a soundtrack to go with your melancholic, big-city bus ride, don’t hold back from a deep “dive” into Souvlaki.
Written by Davide Spinato
*Edited by Dominic Abate