Slowdive’s slow rehabilitation from music-critic pariahs to shoegaze heroes began long before their reunion in 2014. Yet despite the fact that they aren’t the critical punching bags they once were, it’s hard to argue that their early work–particularly Just for A Day and Souvlaki–has aged all that well. Whether or not one appreciates their light, airy take on shoegaze is a matter of taste, but it’s hard to deny that those early records still feel incomplete. The ideas are there, but the band’s inexperience with writing and recording scuppers them. (The masterful Pygmalion is an exception here, largely because it doesn’t sound like much of a shoegaze record at all). It’s clear that Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell and company may have felt the same way about those earlier records, because their reunion album Slowdive plays as nothing less than a revisit to that early sound with the time and experience to get things right. While that may seem like a foolhardy exercise, the result is nothing short of brilliant.

There really isn’t much of a precedent for Slowdive. The album certainly doesn’t pick up where the ambient Pygmalion left off, yet it doesn’t quite feel like Souvlaki 2.0, anyway. Instead, the album is every aspect of Slowdive turned up to maximum, equal parts ethereal dream-pop and hard-driving, atmospheric rock. Lead singles “Star Roving” and “Sugar for The Pill” showcase both of these extremes: the former is epic in scope and the closest the band have ever gotten to full-fledged stadium rock, while the latter is a soothing, effective dreamscape that would put the likes of Beach House to shame. Both demonstrate a level of versatility and adventurousness from Slowdive, something that one wouldn’t have necessarily associated with the band in the first place. While some things haven’t changed with time–Goswell and Halstead’s voices sound as light and beautiful as ever, and their lyrics still don’t mean much of anything–Slowdive presents these familiar elements with a renewed energy and as something deeper than a call back to past memories.

While this indicates a return to Slowdive’s best self, the album is anything but a throwback. Importantly, it sounds fresh, modern and–most of all–full of life. Part of that could be down to the band’s decision to record live in the studio; each track on Slowdive has the momentum of a live performance, which only makes the experience more thrilling. Even so, the band maintain a sense of professionalism throughout. Athough some of its songs head past the eight-minute mark, Slowdive never meanders or descends into the sort of instrumental indulgence that can come from recording as a full band (though “Go Get It” comes precariously close to that). This showcases Slowdive at their tightest, as consummate songwriters and performers working at the peak of their powers.

Admittedly, part of the appeal of Slowdive is based on surprise. As great as reunion albums like these can be, they don’t arrive with high expectations. At best, one would expect an album like this to hit the right nostalgic notes with competency before fading back into the ether again. Think Dinosaur Jr.’s reunion before they became a jam band with more aggressive guitars. However, Slowdive’s reunion didn’t necessarily come about as a way to cash in on accolades. If anything, it serves as a justification to the cult that assembled around their work after their dissolution. Slowdive are a hungry band, and this album is the work of a band with something to prove. Not content to rest on any laurels, Slowdive is an album that makes its creators’ presence known and points listeners to what may come further down the road instead of patting them on the back for going along for the ride.

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