Slowdive - Souvlaki
Why am I boring you with this, perhaps tedious account of the musical influences of a long dead British indie movement? Well its relevance lies in the fact that the leading exponents of the dream pop strand of shoegaze were Slowdive and Souvlaki was their signature album. The issue I have is the extended version with a second CD containing some remixes and other tracks not included on the first issue. My thanks go to a good friend for providing me with a recommendation on this one.
The difficulty I have is in knowing where to start. In spite of the fact that I am drawn to the genre, I find it hard to access. Souvlaki is no different. The album opener, "Alison", is often cited as the highlight track, and while it sets the scene for much of what follows, it teases ultimately only to disappoint. Indeed, much of the album follows that same pattern. Tracks such as "Machine Gun" and "Souvlaki Space Station" in the end seemingly fail to deliver. Of all the tracks on the album, it is only "40 Days" which, to my mind, delivers on its promise.
The reason for this perhaps explains a lot about the genre as a whole. Souvlaki offers layer upon layer of sound, weaving in and out of each other, with two heavily distorted guitars providing the principal method through which this is achieved. The vocals are pushed right to the background, and while they do not resort to the deliberately distorted sound of the Cocteau Twins, the voice has simply become another instrument, another texture to the overall sound. Lyrics are almost meaningless to the vocals in the same way that melody is subjugated to texture when it comes to the guitars.
The result is, as has often been pointed out, almost ambient music in the end product. This music is like an Indonesian rijstaffel - a collection of samples of different tastes, fish, meat and vegetable, hot or cold, which offers the palate a variety of sensations without ever seeking to fulfil the desire to gratify them. It is like the compulsive window shopper - always looking never buying - and thereby not stretching beyond the visual appeal and the curiosity piqued.
You may therefore come to the conclusion then that this is something to be avoided. Far from it. The album's inability to satisfy is what keeps drawing you back to it. Your mind, logic and reason tell you there must be something more, tell you that you are missing something and that if only you spend time exploring it further you will eventually be rewarded with fulfilment. Maybe there is something there. I will continue to look. And if an album is judged by its ability to draw the listener back to it time and time again, even deceptively, then the judgement on this album must surely be positive.
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