In many ways, Slowdive’s self-titled reunion album was their most successful statement yet, a reclamation of their legacy that managed to retain and invigorate the timeless magic of their music. Six years later, it’s easier to appreciate the qualities of the LP outside the significance it held in that particular moment; given the time – nearly two decades – that Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell, Christian Savill, and Nick Chaplin had spent apart, the pure fact that they were able to make something so naturally familiar felt remarkable. Now, the album’s maximalist tendencies don’t just seem joyously triumphant, but a means of amplifying the hazy, sensual logic their songs always had, adding depth and density to their evocative soundscapes. On their new album everything is alive, they employ a similar approach to a sound that’s more uniformly intimate and sparse. Compared to the frayed minimalism of an album like Pygmalion, it’s attuned to the ambient blur of grief, melancholy, and wonder but refines it intο a light-filled and, true to its name, vital record.
Originally, everything is alive was shaping up to be a “more minimal electronic record.” After touring heavily throughout the mid-2010s, Slowdive decided to take 2019 off; it was then that Halstead found himself experimenting with modular synths, which you can hear at the very beginning of opener ‘shanty’. You can also hear the way Halstead’s demos took life through a process of expansion – the addition of an aqueous, distorted stab of guitar gives way to a steady pulse, and less than a minute in, you know it’s Slowdive. At the same time, despite being made during a period of profound transition and loss for the band (the album is dedicated to Goswell’s mother and Scott’s father, both of whom passed away in 2020) and the world at large, it maintains a cohesive, strikingly hopeful mood that suggests the group was selective not just in terms of the songs’ quality or sonic identity, but the feelings that wash through and linger in the end.
Darkness permeates everything is alive, but it’s not the thing that prevails. It also isn’t as unsettling as it once might have been. As it progresses, ‘shanty’ feels like the wide expanse of night lifting its blanket on you, when dreams manifest but its subjects remain oblique; it’s intricately rendered but leaves space for your own projection. The rich shimmer of the instrumental ‘prayer remembered’, which benefits from Shawn Everett’s clear, immersive mixing, speaks a language all its own, but its title connects it to a line from one of the most lyric-driven and memorable songs on the album, ‘andalucia plays’. Referencing John Cale’s ‘Andalucia’, the six-minute track showcases the subtle emotionality and drama that distinguishes Slowdive from their imitators. The way Halstead’s memory drifts between a pervasive atmosphere (“the dark heart of everything”) and the tactile sensation of a loved one’s French cloth polka dot shirt, it somehow doesn’t feel like a sorrowful echo, but one holding the door to a kind of spiritual awakening. “I dream like a butterfly/ Perfect and temporary,” he sings, Goswell’s harmonies rising like a ghostly embrace.
The air shifts around that halfway point, as Slowdive follow the album’s most contemplative moment with ‘kisses’, one of their most compact and infectious pop songs. Swirling with the warmth of a new connection, Halstead and Goswell’s entwining voices convey the romantic euphoria of getting lost in each other’s daydreams instead of spiraling down your own, driven by the want to take each other’s ghosts away. Of course, that’s never entirely possible. They still creep around the hypnotic fuzz and repetition of songs like ‘the slab’ and ‘skin in the game’, which maintains its lo-fi origins to eerie and disorienting effect. They float through the spectral wanderings of ‘chained to a cloud’, which gives shape and body, but not any particular meaning, to another elusive lyric from ‘andalucia plays’. What’s ultimately most astounding about everything is alive is that it feels like a journey as fantastic, but not necessarily tied to, that of the band itself, ringing with truth and intensity even – or especially – as the details begin to fade, turning to ghosts. In those final, heavy stretches, that aliveness is both haunting and unassailable.