Catch The Breeze
oooh, cool! At last, a much-needed retrospective of the band fourth-most likely to be guessed on Hipster Feud if Shoegazer is in the question. 53 people said: My Bloody Valentine. 21 people said: Ride. 11 people said: Lush. Most of the rest said: Slowdive. The thing is, those other bands transcended the label, whereas Slowdive never really did, remaining the archetype of the genre. It looks as though plans for a U.S. release have fallen through or been greatly delayed. That’s a shame, because the selection is somewhat flawed, but the mastering is superb. Too bad the collection didn’t extend to three discs, which would’ve allowed nearly all the officially released material, or four, because there are rarities beyond those pre-debut singles. Even passing the hour-mark on the two discs would’ve allowed the missing essentials, making this all you really needed.
Admittedly, it would be damn hard to make a bad overview of the band. I’d willingly sacrifice a few of the classics just to hear the Bandulu and Reload remixes of In Mind, let alone the original. (What? It’s not here?). I suppose the compilers might think enough bands have covered “Some Velvet Morning” recently to give it a pass. And including the original instrumental “Good Day Sunshine” might’ve been seen as a duplicitous trick to grab gobs of Beatles fans’ money. Quibbles aside, though, leaving off “Moussaka Chaos”, “She Calls” and “Waves” is inexcusable. And having one track exclusive to the debut Just for a Day, while skipping only one from the sophomore Souvlaki is just odd.
OK, OK, the wounded geekese is reaching an unbearable keen; you’re about to bail; on to what is included. Begin with their eponymous debut single; you can look up ‘throb’ in your thesaurus—all synonyms apply. If you can recall Loop and the Cocteau Twins prime material of the era, you may have wondered how anyone combined the two so well. “Avalyn I” takes the same pulsation into deep space, jumping directly from an earthy gyration into diffuse orbit, and moving the focus from a stomach-churning bassline to a stately guitar echo that keeps spiraling outward. “Morningrise”, lead track of the second ep, shows some growth, with a structure that’s much more orderly than the earlier songs, if a bit less visceral. Skipping the other two songs from that release, then following with all four from Catch the Breeze is a strange choice, even if it was amongst their most consistent works, with the title track being a worthy name for this set. The cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair” is inspired madness. The Peel Session of it that follows after the ep is the only previously unreleased track here, and is worthy for more reasons than Neil taking the vocal lead from Rachel. Somehow, they got even more echo semi-live than they did in the studio. Preceded by “Albatross”, one of the only songs here I’d voluntarily give up, the lack of the other two Peel tracks is a bit mystifying, but they would’ve weighted the whole too far to the early material.
It’s the ninth cut before one finally hears a non-ep track, “Spanish Air”, which led their full-length debut. It’s a gorgeous song, built around a very slow martial drumbeat, an understated cello line which eventually moves to foreground, and gradually swelling and billowing guitars, both amplified and acoustic. It’s one of the true highlights amongst many, as is “Catch the Breeze”, which reappeared on the first album. Inasmuch as the band got upbeat, this is an apogee for the first phase of their career. It goes for melodicism with a minimum of the trademark layered opacity. Even though it’s earlier in the set, it’s an apt end to their string of ep’s and first album, its clarity presaging their refinement of sound.
“Alison” from both the Outside Your Room EP and Souvlaki represents a fairly large sonic shift. It’s as layered and ethereal as the earlier material, but the band begins using space more liberally, creating a latticework less dense and insular. It’s also under four minutes, with a more classic pop structure. This approach made the album the definitive statement that stands in more collections than anything else from the band. “Country Rain”, the sole rep of the 5 ep, and “Machine Gun” both pull back from the pop a bit, but retain the airiness of the period; “When the Sun Hits” ends disc one on a throwback to their denser moments, but still with a more defined melody and rhythm.
“40 Days” consolidates the good points they’ve been working on, sounding almost like mid-period J&MC; with reverb in place of feedback. It’s a brilliant choice to lead off disc two, especially followed with “Souvlaki Space Station”, perhaps their best song. The bass is Sara Lee in deep space, i.e. Deb Googe of MBV. It serves as a perfect backdrop to a dub-flange-echo-fest designed to blow minds and speakers. “Dagger” is a greatly contrasting follow-up, but mayn’t really be necessary other than as an indicator of what’s to follow in Slowdive’s briefest phase, with its primarily acoustic instrumentation and more pronounced multi-tracked vocals. Back in then-current mode, “Here She Comes” is the group’s most concise song—they have a couple shorter, but not with this much payout. It’s drenched with reverb and strings, yet still relatively sparse. The only apt comparison I can think of is a warm spring sunshower creating a rainbow ever-so-briefly. “Mellon Yellow” is another dud that could’ve been profitably replaced, but it leads into the apropos end of phase two, “Sing”, co-written by Eno. Not quite the landmark one would hope for, it’s still a crystalline gem of a dub.
The final period of the band’s ouevre, represented solely by Pygmallion, was marked by a move toward more current trends in ambient music. Electronics began creeping in, and loops even moreso. Fans will welcome the five long-out-of-print tracks included, but it’s likely that only “Blue Skied An’ Clear” will really make an impression on a newcomer. The album was a cult fave in its day, but its six and seven minute songs sound pretty dated at this point. Given that it had no accompanying singles, I expect it would be the only one not to see a double-disc treatment should proper album reissues ever make the market. Let’s hope they do. While this set is excellent, there’s really no reason to try and condense a band’s catalogue when it’s this brief.
Reviewed by: Dan Miron
Reviewed on: 2005-03-11