Slowdive and Mojave 3

(Copyright © 1999-2022 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Just For A Day , 8/10
Souvlaki , 7/10
Blue Day, 7/10 (comp)
Pygmalion, 6/10
Mojave: Ask Me Tomorrow , 6/10
Mojave: Out Of Tune, 6/10
Mojave 3: Excuses For Travellers , 7/10
Monster Movie: Last Night Something Happened , 5/10
Mojave 3: Spoon and Rafter (2003), 6/10
Rachel Goswell: Waves Are Universal (2004), 6/10
Mojave 3: Puzzles Like You (2006), 5/10
Neil Halstead: Sleeping On Roads (2001), 6/10
Neil Halstead: Oh! Mighty Engine (2008), 5/10
Slowdive (2017), 5/10
Monster Movie: Keep the Voices Distant (2017), 4/10

(Translated from my original Italian text by DommeDamian)

Slowdive were one of the most representative groups of the British "shoegaze" movement of the 90s. Their psychedelic rock took the instances of My Bloody Valentineand Cocteau Twins to extreme levels: of the former the pulsating bass, the funereal drums, the guitars tuned to celestial reverberations, whispers that hover in impalpable rings, and of the others the suggestion of warbling harmonies.

The group, formed in 1990 on the ashes of the Pumpkin Fairies (1989), relied on the vocal skills of Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, both very young, and on the guitar trio composed by the two with Christian Savill.

The EPs Slowdive (November 1990), with the celestial title-track and the long Avalyn, Morningrise (February 1991), with the title-track and She Calls, and Holding Our Breath (June 1991), with the catchy Catch The Breeze and the atmospheric Albatross, were notable for a trance set on subtle fluctuations of mood. It was neither the melodies nor the guitar distortions that drove the sound, because the sound was an abstract entity that unfolded little by little. The EPs would be collected on theBlue Daycompilation (Creation, 1992).

The debut album Just For A Day (Creation, 1991) testifies to an early and spectacular maturity. Few bands have been able to produce music so psychological and so harmonious. The hypnotic whisperings of the record glide weightlessly on very smooth surfaces, their diaphanous profiles bounce against distorting mirrors, their velvety refrains slip into the meshes of the cosmos.

The Sadman is perhaps the most extraterrestrial and surreal piece, and the vocal polyphony of the group touches a zenith of pure delirium in the aforementioned Catch The Breeze (in particular in its dream tail). Primal is a mini-concert in a crescendo of echoes and reverberations, which blends the sweetness and the brutality of a heroin overdose.

Chromatic abstraction touches pure electronic avant-garde in the instrumental Erik's Song.Celia's Dream excels in that sense of abandonment in the spirals of hypnotic cadences. It is enough to scroll through the titles to realize that their universe is packed with dreams, breezes, waves, air. Guitars, keyboards and percussion are fused in homogeneous flows of fairy sound, always scanned in a solemn way, as on the threshold of Paradise. The traditional format of the rock song resurfaces for a few seconds from the galactic mists in Ballad of Sister Sue and Waves. The martial melody (reminiscent of the "Crimson King") of Spanish Air represents better than any other medium tone of the disc.

Thus, psychedelia becomes mystical "symphonism". Slowdive's songs are the "sanctus" of psychedelic rock. This record is one of the most daring achievements of British rock ever.

It is no coincidence that Souvlaki (Creation, 1993 - SBK, 1994) attracted the attention of Brian Eno, who plays on a couple of songs: their rock permanently breathes an ambient beauty. Their songs seem more and more anthemic in trance, sung in a low voice by Halstead, with the very faint countermelody of Goswell (or vice versa), and played on tiptoe by an ensemble that seems on the verge of fainting at any moment. Tired cadences, hypnotic velvety spirals of electronics and the most affectional warbling populate the magical lands of Machine Gun and Altogether.

The climax of languor and voluptuousness is Alison, wrapped in spirals of heavenly choirs and studded with a very soft jingle-jangle, as if Sonny and Cher had become two cherubs and sang from a cloud in heaven. The more you go on and the more the sound disappears, up to the minimal extremes, almost to the harmonic void, of Dagger (which Halstead hums accompanied by the guitar alone) and Country Rain (which Goswell whispers on warm Hawaiian chords). When The Sun Hits is the song that comes closest to contemporary shoegazer conventions.

The instrumental Souvlaki Space Station reserves a minimum of action (and emotion) due to a surreal reggae rhythm and noise, at the crossroads between psychedelic and industrial music. The two instrumental apocryphals published as a bonus of the record (Good Day Sunshine and Missing You), are almost new age watercolors that obtain the same results as the songs but without resorting to the human voice.

The 5EP had In Mind and Country Rain.

Pygmalion (Creation, 1995) could not be more unusual in the season of Brit-pop. De facto, it is a solo album by Neil Halstead who gives vent to his environmental lusts, halfway between Talk Talk (the ten minutes of Rutti) and Seefeel ( Miranda, Trellisaze, J's Heaven). The classic Slowdive sound is still lingering in the mantra of Crazy For You and in the vortex of Blue Skied An' Clear. But the band is by now dead.

(Original text by Piero Scaruffi) (Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

After Slowdive disbanded, Halstead and Goswell launched Mojave 3. Immune from guitar distortions, Ask Me Tomorrow (4AD, 1996) has a gently, dreamy, melancholic folk tone, akin to the Cowboy Junkies, even if the Slowdive touch is easily recognizable (a few of the songs are brainchildren of Dagger and Miranda) and lead-off ballad Love Songs On The Radio was clearly inspired by Mazzy Star's Fade Into You.
A country twang accompanies Goswell's languid and suave meditation Tomorrow's Taken. Guitar, piano and soft drumming accent the evanescent melody of Sarah.
Melodies are always romantically engaging, although never sumptuous or emphatic. Quite the contrary: the duets Candle Song 3 and Where Is The Love belong with the tender lullabies of Leonard Cohen; and You're Beautiful is a serenade sung with the quiet tone (and sparse arrangement) of early Donovan.

The band relaxes a little too much on Out Of Tune (4AD, 1998), a subdued collection that harks back to the late 1960s country and folk revivals and that relates even too explicitly to the icons of that time: Gram Parson (Give What You Take, Baby's Coming Home), Band (Keep It All Hid, Caught Beneath Your Heel), Nick Drake (All Your Tears, Yer Feet), and, last but not least, Bob Dylan, who inspires the two singles (Who Do You Love, Some Kinda Angel).

While not as accomplished as the debut album, and still prone to fainting at every note like the sophomore album, Excuses For Travellers (4AD, 2000) clarifies Mojave 3's identity, as modern singer-songwriter's music that harks back to the golden age of country-rock and folk-rock but adds a metaphysical dimension. Surprisingly, little is left of their psychedelic roots. The six-minute ode In Love With A View recalls the magic atmosphere of Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde, and She Broke You So Softly has the gentle, pure, loving quality of the first Donovan album. The seven-minute My Life In Art is all about whispering emotions to a bird on a wire, inspired by Leonard Cohen and Tim Buckley. The charming singalongs of When You're Drifting and Prayer For The Paranoid are concentrates of gentle gestures that bridge earth and heavens. Mojave 3 have achieved a classical style, that allows them to stretch the format of their ballads without renouncing a relatively simply format.
The spiritual undercurrent of much of the collection comes to light when trumpet and organ elevate Got My Sunshine to a moving gospel hymn full of hope and humility.
These are folk and country ballads that a lacerating pain has emptied of all energy and filled with a zen-like acceptance of the mystery of life. These are disciples of Gram Parsons, not of shoegazers.
On the other hand, the lively Return To Sender, the catchy and relaxed Krazy Kat, the modern arrangements of Bringin' Me Home (a touch of electronic, a danceable beat, a female voice), the power-pop of Anyday Will be Fine (reminiscent of Luna) could mark the beginning of a new career (or several new careers).

Neil Halstead's first solo album, Sleeping On Roads (4AD, 2001), sounded like an electronic version of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. A couple of atmospheric tunes (Two Stones In My Pocket, See You On Rooftops) stand out among several plain, humorless dirges.

Slowdive guitarist Christian Savill and Sean Hewson formed the project Monster Movie, that recorded the album Last Night Something Happened (Clairecords, 2002). The duo updates dream-pop to slo-core and ambient music. A few of the songs (4th and Pine, Waiting Shortwave, Home) are worth the best of the genre, and the instrumental pieces (First Trip to the City, Star City) exhude metaphysical dejection. Monster Movie then released To the Moon (2004), All Lost (2006) and Everyone Is a Ghost (2010).

Spoon and Rafter (Matador, 2003), Mojave 3's fourth album, fails to introduce new elements, but succeeds in extending the ethereal vision of the musicians. The nine-minute Bluebird Of Happiness, the brooding Between the Bars and the graceful folk-pop lullabies Tinkers Blues and She's All Up Above show how Halstead's dexterity at just about any mood and form.

Rachel Goswell's first solo album, Waves Are Universal (4AD, 2004), is a graceful exercise in recreating the mood of early Cocteau Twins and, yes, Slowdive.

Mojave 3's Puzzles Like You (4AD, 2006) was their most extroverted work yet, as close as Halstead ever got to writing bouncy pop ditties, as if he had decided to release a tribute album to the 1960s (Truck Driving Man, Big Star Baby).

Neil Halstead's second solo album, Oh! Mighty Engine (2008) was an acoustic bedroom exercise.

Slowdive's drummer Simon Scott debuted solo with the ethereal Navigare (Miasmah, 2009) and the four-song EP Traba (Immune, 2010). Scott instead opted for brainy constructions and a noir-jazz atmosphere on Bunny (Miasmah, 2011).

After 22 years, Slowdive returned with Slowdive (2017), opening with the catchy, ethereal and sensual Slomo and closing with the lugubrious ballad Falling Ashes, while Monster Movie returned after seven years with Keep the Voices Distant (2017).

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