Ever since the lovely climax of “Catch The Breeze” (Just For A Day), Slowdive has been one of my favorite bands. Their combination of swirling, atmospheric guitars, lovely vocal harmonies, and melancholy ambience was just the thing I needed on those rainy days(or any day, for that matter.) Their first two albums, Just For A Day and Souvlaki, are often heralded as perfect examples of that ambiguous style of music called “dreampop,” bridging the gap between the Cocteau Twins’ angelic soundscapes and My Bloody Valentine’s exquisite wall of noise.
Pygmalion, on the other hand, goes towards the more experimental route. Whereas the first two albums conjured up the ambience of flowered fields, rainy days, and starry skies, Pygmalion conjures up the ambience of abandoned factories and empty rooms. But what makes it so compelling is that Slowdive’s music has lost none of its warmth, even in these distant compositions; it’s just taken a different turn.
The 10 minute long “Rutti” opens up the album. Minimalist guitar and lazy vocals float throughout the track and are eventually joined by the bass and all sorts of percussion, before fading out again. “Crazy For You” hints back to the classic Slowdive sound, with a single guitar melody repeated amidst spiralling feedback and sounds; Neil Halstead repeats a single mantra-like phrase “crazy for love” over and over, hypnotizing the listener.
The next two songs, “Miranda” and “Trellisaze,” are two of most experimental songs on the album. Both feature minimal guitars played over and over again, with heavily reverbed and echoed vocals, so much so that you can hardly understand them. Strange, otherwordly noises float in the background, kind of like a cross between satellite transmissions, background cosmic noise, and dripping faucets.
“Cello” is, well, a cello. This piece is one of the most beautiful songs on this album. This song is a masterpiece of melancholic subtlety; the song is beautiful and haunting with the cello slowly gliding out out of nowhere. Unfortunately, at just under two minutes, it’s much too short. I wish this piece was much, much longer. “J’s Heaven” returns to the experimental vibe, with the minimal guitars that slowly build on eachother for a very nice and subtle effect.
“Visions of La” is another haunting, yet short tune. Rachel Goswell’s voice is lovely, as always and is perfectly accented by the rising and falling guitar. “Blue Skied An’ Clear,” like “Crazy For You” hints back at the classic Slowdive style, yet goes far beyond it. The song starts off very gently, almost lounge-like, with heavily reverbed guitars. The vocals, like so many songs on this album, are heavily reverbed but not so much so that it’s incomprehensible. The song slowly builds up into a spiralling climax of feedback and guitars which slowly melts into Goswell’s gorgeous voice.
The album ends with one of the most intimate and beautiful songs Slowdive has ever performed. “All Of Us” is simply Halstead singing, acoustic guitar, and that cello. The song is heartbreaking and just tugs at my heart when I hear it; the mood is of pure loneliness and longing. Again, the ambience of an empty room.
Well, I’m sorry if you got bored reading this review. I felt like I had to comment on every song. You’re probably thinking “Geez, why’d he have to make such sappy comments on every song?!?” Well, that’s just how good this album is, IMHO. I love this album. However, it is a challenging work, but at the same time, more rewarding than any of their other albums. I love to listen to this album at work; it’s mellow and unintruding enough to let me work, yet not so much so that I get bored to tears. It’s also that perfect album to listen to either passively or actively; either way, I get something enjoyable out of it.
And yes, I do have one complaint. From what I’ve read, Mojave 3 probably won’t write any more material like this. This was Slowdive’s swan song, and a gorgeous one at that.