The other day I saw the official line-up for this year’s Primavera music festival (which – wow!) and I noticed something particularly exciting to me. There in the second line of 5/30, a name that hasn’t been on show posters for over a decade: S L O W D I V E. [If you are uninitiated, play the song below.]
The first time I heard “Alison” I was transfixed. I remember it vividly: I was sitting on my bed staring at a heavy snowfall in a tiny South Philly bedroom that I shared with a friend (who wasn’t home at the time) playing the song over and over again on a CVS-bought clock radio. My roommate (a different one) had lent me her CD copy of Slowdive‘s 1993 LP Souvlaki earlier in the day and I had put it on with the intention of doing some room-cleaning. Instead of cleaning anything I was sitting there with the guitars circling around my room and swirling in my head, the lyrics rife with vice and confusion (basically, the language of twenty-something love), and staring out the window at the inches of snow pile up on Shunk St. in South Philadelphia. I was writing in my journal as I finally let “Machine Gun” (track 2) play, and listened through until the end of the album. All felt right with the world.
Slowdive’s name represents their music quite well; it makes all the intuitive sense in the world to say, but upon considering it there cannot be such a thing as a slow dive. Perhaps it is the volume-to-tempo ratio that makes their music feel a little bit slowed down, but whatever notions can be conjured up as to how a dive could be slow – drug-related, the manipulation of a third party, or the province of space/the otherworldly – are very much the stock in trade of the genre that Slowdive is most usually lumped into: shoegaze.
When most people think of shoegaze music they think of only one band but for my money Slowdive should be on the mind, in the heart, and on the iPhones of anyone who utters the name of that sub-genre. Like many sub-genres of rock music, the dominance of a Primary Artist (in this case, My Bloody Valentine) and their generally short lifetimes make them seem like nothing but a foot-note in the larger Rock Canon. However, while Kevin Shields genius finds MBV synonymous with shoegaze, their are a number of other excellent bands that were their contemporaries in heavy distortion, innovative gear usage, and vocal levels that were nestled among the music. Fundamentally speaking, Slowdive’s music is straightforward pop that wraps itself up in shoegaze, and even more than any of their shoegaze compatriots, their music is consistently more pleasing to listen to for this writer.
As the snows start to fall in Philadelphia tonight, my soundtrack feels pre-determined but I have no problem with that.