Souvlaki by Slowdive: a must in the history of shoegaze
With sizzling beats, all marinated back and forth and mixed with some searing beats, Slowdive’s 1993 second studio album titled Souvlaki is just as good as your all-time favorite Greek food. Souvlaki paved the way for future generations of music by creating new styles of sound that completely coat your ears, appease your hunger and leave you satisfied.
From the resurgence of shoegaze artists in the 2010s to the embracing of the reverb-heavy subgenre on TikTok, the sounds of swirling guitars and ethereal vocals have captured the minds of Gen Z. Nearly 3 decades after its release, Souvlaki became a staple in shoegaze history and touched the hearts of receptive listeners and former fans alike.
Originating in the late 80s, the short-lived shoegaze subgenre began in the UK and died out in the late 90s. Containing elements of indie and alternative rock, shoegaze songs have a textured noise and prominent in the background with dreamy, unintelligible lyrics in the foreground. The distinction between the different instruments is hard to decipher, but all together sound like a distorted crowd of guitars. Contrasting with the busy surrounding sound, the soft voices give the listener a feeling of weightlessness. This combination of two very different elements still manages to give off a delightful and immersive experience. The name “shoegaze” is derived from the fact that guitarists use pedals to create a sonic fuzz, requiring them to constantly look at their feet. Consequently, shoegazers were known for their long stares at their shoes, ultimately avoiding eye contact with the public.
So who gave birth to this long-lost cousin of rock music? Shoegaze’s parents turned out to be Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain – two popular alternative rock bands in the 80s. The Cocteau Twins’ 1982 debut album, Garland, possesses a perfect blend of punk rock and goth with their discography becoming more and more shoegaze over time, which is evident in their 1983 album Crazy in Love. Likewise, PsychocandyThe Jesus and Mary Chain’s 1985 debut album, features recognizable shoegaze sounds such as constant guitar feedback.
However, these bands did not mark the direct start of the shoegaze era. My Bloody Valentine, a band closely associated with Slowdive, defined what the genre really meant after the release of their debut EP, You made me realize (1988), as well as their first album, Isn’t everything (1988). Both projects were the building blocks of their acclaimed second album, Without love (1991), which is one of the most recognizable albums in shoegaze history. The tracks on Without love blend into each other with great ease, leading to a seamless experience of continuity. Guitar sounds resembling frightened bees or earthquake vibrations flood the album, mixed with very carried away lyrics. I find Without love being my favorite from their vast discography, my favorite track of all time being “Sometimes”, alongside others including “Come In Alone”, “Only Shallow”, “Soon” and, of course, the popular “When You Sleep”. “My Bloody Valentine took its first influential steps into the dawn of shoegaze, with Slowdive continuing to maintain the momentum.
Slowdive released their self-titled EP in 1990, followed by two more releases a year later, morning sunrise and Hold our breath. In a review by Andy Kellman of AllMusic, he proposed that their breakout EP was a weak effort but managed to develop a musical direction that featured sonic haze and a dreamy soundscape, which was also reflected in their EPs from 1991. The public response to their debut album, just for one day (1991), was relatively the same – maybe even worse. Written and recorded in just 6 weeks, this album performed poorly as the UK music press began to invest more in the American grunge scene, leaving shoegaze bands undesirable. The UK music press felt that the album had not met with the enthusiasm expected, with other critics pouring out descriptors such as “a premature debut album” and “not as advanced” as their previous EPs. Although Slowdive’s early work lacked great commercial success, they contributed greatly to the development of their overall sound and revealed their growth as musicians.
Two years after a critical backlash, a new item was on Slowdive’s menu – the perfectly seasoned and tender Souvlaki. Much like their distant sibling, My Bloody Valentine, both bands’ second albums became staples of the shoegaze environment thanks to the projects that preceded them. Souvlaki captures the essence of their debut album while incorporating new ways of producing sound. From the breakup of Slowdive band members Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead, this coming-of-age album captures themes of personal turbulence, discovery and heartbreak. Simulating an experience similar to insane transcendence through space, Slowdive created guitar melodies that swirl and twirl alongside vocals that loop and whisper. Repetitive lyrics and recurring motifs, like the sun, flood the entirety of this convoluted album. Souvlaki creates a listening experience that calls for both head-butting and melancholy swaying, contributing strongly to this ambient atmosphere.
“When The Sun Hits,” Slowdive’s most-streamed track on Spotify to date, along with fan-favorite “Alison,” are songs that have a catchy tempo and catchy lyrics, appealing to those who aren’t. familiar with shoegaze and would like to learn more about the genre. My favorite, “40 Days,” captures the feeling of still living in the past with an ex-lover and hating the present they miss. Raging reverberant guitars bury the flimsy lyrics beneath, giving off those “crying in the club” feelings. The album’s heartbreaking acoustic closing track, “Dagger,” evokes themes of being the one who hurt the relationship and regretting the mistakes that were made. When describing a love interest as sunshine, the slow beat of “Here She Comes” encapsulates the feeling of being cold in the absence of another and warm when you see them next. The shadow on the wall signals that light is coming into his life.
After devouring Souvlakithe band released their third studio album in 1995 Pygmalion — an album oriented towards ambient electronic music. Their label wanted Slowdive to release a pop album, but the band resisted, causing them to fall apart and go their separate ways. Some band members formed a new band called Mojave 3, while others left the music scene altogether.
Two decades after their split, Slowdive joined them for their fourth studio album in 2017slow dive, where their current success lies. Entering the musical atmosphere again, they announced a post-release tour with opening act Japanese Breakfast.
Looking back Souvlaki and its importance in shoegaze history, creating a new genre called “nu gaze” captures the ambient feeling of 90s shoegaze in the modern world. Inspired bands such as Beach House, Whirr, LSD and the Search for God, DIIV and Nothing implement elements of shoegaze music and have allowed the genre to resurface after decades of dormancy. Of all the vinyls sold at Amoeba Music, Souvlaki placed on their 50 best-selling albums for 2021, proving their everlasting effect on music-making and their growing fandom in new generations. As well as this, Souvlaki was placed as one of the best albums of the 1990s.
Aging like wine, an album that once repelled audiences has returned with a bewitching scent, inviting more fans than ever. If the future of Slowdive is unknown, the recipe for SouvlakiThe success of will continue to influence the means of musical production for generations to come.