Catch the Breeze by Slowdive (Review)

About as perfect a summation of Slowdive’s career as one can find.
Catch The Breeze, Slowdive

Seeing as how I personally believe that Slowdive was one of the most perfect bands to have ever graced God’s green earth, it’s impossible for me to write about their music with anything approaching even the illusion of objectivity. So I won’t even try. If fanboy-quality gushing and raving aren’t your cup of tea, you might want to skip this one, because like I said, Slowdive was one of the most perfect bands to have ever graced God’s green earth.

I’ve listened to their albums and EPs countless times and have immersed myself in the same songs over and over again, ever since I bought that used cassette of Just For A Day back in 1995 at Recycled Sounds. Nearly 10 years later, I still find their music to be as beautiful, as inspiring, and as overwhelming as I did when I first heard “Catch the Breeze,” and I have no reason to doubt that I’ll feel the same way in another 10 years.

Most people might assume that the band got their name from the Siouxsie And The Banshees song. However, the truth is that it came to bassist Nick Chaplin in a dream — which makes absolutely perfect sense for a band whose music sends critics and fans alike scrambling for a thesaurus to find any synonym they can for “dreamy.” Over its 2 discs, Catch the Breeze provides 25 examples of just why exactly that is the case, showcasing again and again the band’s uncanny knack at blending ethereal walls of sound, gorgeous melodies, and breathy vocal harmonies in a manner that can only be described as “dreamlike.”

Catch the Breeze is far from comprehensive, so fans looking for long lost b-sides and outtakes might be disappointed — sorry, no Pygmalion demos or songs from the I Am the Elephant, You Are the Mouse soundtrack here. There are a few omissions that might seem a bit odd — for example, “She Calls,” one of the band’s finest early statements, is nowhere to be found — and the songs are often presented out of order.

However, seeing as how it’s next to impossible to find Souvlaki and Pygmalion (the band’s 2nd and 3rd albums, respectively), this is about as perfect a summation as one can get. And for those shoegaze newbies who have heard about Slowdive all of their lives, who have listened to countless bands that exist in their shadow, but have never been able to actually hear them outside of those infernal file-sharing systems, this release is an absolute Godsend.

Disc 1 culls material from band’s earliest singles (which had the fickle British press falling all over themselves, before virtually ignoring the band within a few year’s time once Oasis and Britpop arrive on the scene), Just For A Day (the band’s first full-length, and their most atmospheric release), and Souvlaki (the band’s most fully-realized album).

The earliest recordings, though sometimes a bit on the basic side, reveal a band that was in nearly full possession of their sonic powers from the very beginning. It’s next to impossible to label such early recordings as “Slowdive” and “Morningrise” prototypical. Sure, the band never really deviated too far from the template they established on these early recordings, at least not until the techno forays that immediately followed Souvlaki and the minimalism of Pygmalion. However, these early songs make it very obvious that the band had no reason to, not when their template began as perfectly as it did.

These early songs also reveal just how influential the band could become, even if people don’t realize it. Listen to “Albatross” or their cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair” (which finds Rachel Goswell’s lovely voice cast adrift amidst glacial swells of guitar) and tell me you don’t hear the sound that Sigur Rós has spent their entire career trying to achieve.

Disc 2 picks up where Disc One left off with the Souvlaki material, starting with the one-two punch of “40 Days” and “Souvlaki Space Station.” The former is one of the band’s most propulsive songs, all fuzz-laden guitars and explosive drumming falling all over eachother in a race to engulf the listener. The latter is one of shoegaze’s supreme statements, a song that is celestial in every sense of the word — exploding like a supernova into a dazzling array of alien choirs, crashing drums, and soaring guitars. The Souvlaki material closes with “Sing,” a delicate collaboration with ambient pioneer Brian Eno that serves as a perfect segue into the ambient soundscapes of the band’s swansong, Pygmalion.

The most forward looking of their releases, Pygmalion should be considered one of the progenitors of “post-rock,” along with Bark Psychosis’ Hex and Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock. By this time, the band had essentially dwindled down to founding members Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, the other members having grown disillusioned with Halstead’s interest in electronic music.

“Blue Skied An’ Clear” is a gorgeously lethargic track, as a placid bassline meanders below a shimmering lattice of ringing guitars and angelic vocals. “Crazy For You” is perhaps the closest tie Pygmalion has to the band’s older material, as Vini Reilly-esque loops of guitar and Halstead’s mantra-like voice intertwine with eachother, to spectacular result. The compilation’s final track is “Rutti,” a fitting choice. As the song stretches past the 10-minute mark, carried along by carefully measured layers of drifting guitar, hypnotic bass, percussion, and Halstead’s sigh of a voice, the comp’s final moments seem to dilate and stretch out — allowing the listener that much longer to hold onto Slowdive’s wondrous sound.

Most people consider My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless to be the pinnacle of shoegazing. And from a technical perspective, they’re probably right — that album, perhaps moreso than any other, is the perfect example of how beautiful sheer noise can become. However, no band better personifies shoegaze than Slowdive. You listen to Slowdive, and you’re listening to shoegaze in its most perfect and realized form. Catch the Breeze reminds you of that again and again, of how perfectly and effortlessly Slowdive captured the sonic splendor, the rainy day melancholy, the sheer dreaminess of it all, and in the process, created a body of work that’s nigh-timeless.

Like I said, one of the most perfect bands to have ever graced God’s green earth.

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