Slowdive – Just For A Day – VINYL LP


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Swooning, washed-out rock from over a decade ago: Why should these reissues matter? The obvious answer: because this band still sounds incredible. Listening back, it feels like Slowdive were both the first and last word on this particular form of guitar-pop dreaming. It’s the same sense you can get from Galaxie 500, Mazzy Star, My Bloody Valentine, or the Cocteau Twins, four bands with whom Slowdive have plenty in common. The 1980s were full of earthy rock from punk’s tail end, full of glittery pop and bouncy indie and spandexed anthems– these people all pitched in to the reverse process of guitar music going slow, slurry, and stylish, going silent-cool, and staring off into space.

Loads of acts still work along these woozy, languorous lines, and loads of acts traced the lines out before these turn-of-the-90s groups came along. But each of those artists staked out a patch of territory that feels definitive, a sound complete enough that there’s no point following down its path. (Who in the world would think he could squeeze more out of Mazzy Star’s tricks than Mazzy Star already did?) No, revisiting these bands is a little like trading in some modern guitar-pop for a Beatles record: The first shot doesn’t sound dated, or less sophisticated, and it doesn’t necessarily seem “better,” or more original, either. It’s just a workable, fully-formed thing on its own, which might be why most of the acts that feel like Slowdive today– say, Ladytron, Lali Puna, Broadcast, or M83– are coming at that mood and atmosphere from very different directions.

A year ago, we were saying roughly the same thing about Catch the Breeze, a Slowdive compilation that was more Portable Summary than Best Of. Two discs, packed with long stretches from the band’s three albums and most of the highlights from their singles and EPs– this was a big enough chunk of their five-year career to make it easy to take a pass on the rest. Now comes the complete follow-through: remastered reissues of all three LPs, in full. The first two, Just for a Day and Souvlaki, come in the now-standard two-disc format, packaged with a lot of the same extras that already wound up on the compilation; the last, 1995’s long out-of-print Pygmalion, comes back to life in its original form, which is probably the best and biggest news here. Yeah, yeah: Reissues, duplication, hard-earned money, blah blah blah. But in the long term, all those kids you see picking their noses everywhere will have two solid options for investigating this band– the short way or the long one.
The gist of it: Frontman Neil Halstead has remained the same kind of songwriter throughout his career, from Slowdive’s shoegazing to Mojave 3’s dreamy “country” (someone did try to beat Mazzy Star!) to his solo folk; his songs are warm, uncomplicated, full of some strange weepy longing, and slowed down to a narcotic drawl. What’s surprising is how many different ways he’s found to present them. The best starting point is 1993’s Souvlaki, already a bit of an Essential Slowdive in itself. Across this record, the band kicks up a swirl that matches Halstead’s sleepwalking pop perfectly: Guitars stretch and swirl in slow-motion layers, and the vocals seem to be calling desperately out of them, even when they’re just lazy chants. This stuff manages to be both pillowy-soft and passionately deep– shades of the way My Bloody Valentine could blur heaviness into an out-of-focus lull, or the way Galaxie 500’s drowsy strum could come out with a fist in the air.

A significant chunk of Souvlaki wound up on Catch the Breeze, but anyone hoping the remainder was forgettable is out of luck: Even as collaborator Brian Eno led this album off into a few dub-deep explorations, Halstead’s pop songwriting hit a peak, and the album’s tracks wound up good-as-“Alison” almost straight across. (Same goes for the cover of “Some Velvet Morning” on the bonus disc– just Slowdive putting the swirl on someone else’s dreamy, narcotic country songwriting.) It’s a slightly different scenario for the band’s first album, 1991’s Just for a Day, which the anthology ignored in favor of the early singles and radio sessions that now stock its bonus disc. Not so surprising: It’s a straight line from those singles and EPs to the sound of Souvlaki, whereas Just for a Day is more of a sweet-dream detour. It was in 1991 that the NME said Slowdive could “make Cocteau Twins resemble Mudhoney,” and the fluffy sprawl of this record seems to be trying to prove them right. There’s a lot less weight to it, and if anything in Slowdive’s catalogue will seem dated, it’s the overgroomed production on these songs. Still, there’s something terrifically oceanic about it– tracks start out softly floating and then whip themselves up into gorgeous, overbearing squalls.

Most important, though, is the reissue of Pygmalion, which should knock down the album’s eBay asking price by a good fifty bucks. This is a detour of the best sort, and a Slowdive album in name only: With this record, Halstead pushed the rest of the band to the sidelines, dropped the notion of a “band” altogether, and recorded at least two tracks that I can’t imagine being rivaled– ambient pop dreams that have more in common with post-rock like Disco Inferno than shoegazers like Ride. Some of it is all woozy layers: spare touches of guitar, vocal phrases looping and phasing around one another, slow-rolling sampled drums. Some of it takes on the warmth and empty-room minimalism of the “folk” Halstead would go on to make. More than just “some” of it appears on Catch the Breeze– five tracks out of nine, from an album that’s not exactly consistent. But the sound here is so singular that’s much better appreciated in album form, failures and all, and there’s good no reason an album this fascinating shouldn’t be in print.

The fluffy-sweet turn-of-the-90s record: That one is fans-only. The pop-rock record with the influential swoon: Anyone whose rock tastes run to the “dreamy” needs it, or at least needs “Alison” popping up on the mp3-player shuffle. The post-rock obscurity that’s worth $12 just for “Blue Skied an’ Clear”: You won’t find anything else quite like it. Swooning, washed-out rock from the 90s– why should these reissues matter? I keep listening for reasons they wouldn’t sound as good as they did a decade ago, and on at least two of these records, I’m not finding any at all.

A1 Spanish Air 6:06
A2 Celia’s Dream 4:12
A3 Catch The Breeze 4:22
A4 Ballad Of Sister Sue 4:34
A5 Erik’s Song 4:27
B1 Waves 5:54
B2 Brighter 3:51
B3 The Sadman 4:47
B4 Primal 5:29

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Weight 350 g




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