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Slowdive – Souvlaki

May 11, 2007

Souvlaki – Food – 8/10
The most elusive of Greeks foods available at your local gyros joint, souvlaki is seldom ordered because it just takes a bit more time to prepare and is just a little more expensive than that chili cheese dog or Italian beef that you could also order. The extra change and minutes add up though, and this ends up being filling, delicious, and satisfying, way more so than anything else on the menu. It is a fairly simple dish though. Souvlaki is seasoned meat, usually pork but sometimes chicken or some other meats, sometimes shredded or as dumplings, either cooked on a skewer with various other vegetables or in a pita sandwich like gyros with onions and tomatoes. What struck me about this dish when I first tasted it was how dense and satisfying the meat was. After eating a souvlaki sandwich (which cost me just under five dollars), which was portioned about the same as a gyros that would hardly fill me, I was completely full and unable to eat anymore, and it took some work to put that last few onions down. This deception proved to be a great surprise, and after eating it only at five in the afternoon, I woke up the next morning around six not really that hungry. Which was bizarre. In any case, it is the kind of meat that is easy to pig out on within the confines of your tray. It’s the meat that you love to bite and taste the marinade off of the rough outer edges on your tongue, it’s the type that you chew more than you need to just to savor how juicy and dense it is, and it’s the kind that you like getting stuck between your teeth. There is just something about this that I love. There is just something about it that leaves me longing for more though… It’s not that it isn’t delicious, it just isn’t interesting. On the other hand, a chili dog is less filling but more exciting. It is worth getting though, and it is way better than Gyros or Italian Beef. A good fast meal the next time you stop by an Greek joint.

Souvlaki – Album – 10/10

Slowdive is unfortunately always put second to My Bloody Valentine, and Souvlaki is always put second to Loveless. The danger in this is that these bands as well as these albums are really opposite sides of the same coin in that they are both masters at crafting wonderful shoegaze, but their methods, ideas, and end results couldn’t be more different. Well, maybe not. They both were of the same breed, and the intention was the create lush, beautiful melodies with swooning guitars and a sleepy production. But they just brought the genre to new heights in their own ways. I would first like address the fact that it is physically impossible for anyone to write a review about any shoegaze record without reference to either My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, or Ride and their respectable masterworks. And unfortunately this isn’t too unreasonable, because the genre hasn’t quite nailed out it’s kinks even fifteen years after it’s breakthrough, and really only a few shoegaze albums have really mattered or been as original and fantastic since this trifecta of awesome. Most shoegaze bands rip on one of the three, it seems. But Slowdive is the one that is tough to pin down, mostly because they developed so much in their short career and have almost equal love from fans for all three of their albums. Or maybe it is because their style is so unique and hard to replicate that it simply ends up standing alone due to severe difficulty in imitation. To me it seems pretty obvious that Souvlaki is the winner and the pinnacle of Slowdive’s career, and it attains the status of a classic album and a shoegaze essential with ease.

It is perhaps easier to talk about what Souvlaki does right by instead talking about what it does not do wrong, maybe because good things and bad things have floated among shoegaze enthusiasts for years and there is almost nothing left. It could also be because I am very bad at writing reviews about albums I adore and usually end up just raving and using strong positive adjectives and nothing more.I’m going to quote something nerdy, or maybe just too deluged in popular culture to be considered fair description for a virtually unknown indie band from the early nineties, and certainly too vague and wordy for something specific that I am trying to say. With great power comes great responsibility. Using so layered, deep guitars requires a precision that most musicians do not dream of. It’s the kind of album that could have easily been fucked up on a song by song basis due to small mistakes in vocals or drums or something, but it is fortunately perfectly shaped and chizzled down to the finest details. One of the key factors in making moving music is building and relieving tension well, and Slowdive does it on every track, building waves of guitar chords that sound relieving at their first moments and longing at their last. I’m still trying to figure out how this effect is created, specifically on Machine Gun, where sometimes only subtle changes or no changes at all somehow transform their purpose in a matter of seconds. The only real explanation is that the band is simply impeccable in their ability to write soothing melodies without taking the easy way out. It sounds pretentious, but often times this album is soft spoken and beautiful in a tired, dreamy sort of way, specifically on Here She Comes. This song is particularly beautiful because of how it is simultaneously a dreamy lullaby and a touching elegy, and the instruments are played great too. The drums are a hushed chugging beat, the bassline is warm and simple and the guitar echoes between speakers in waves and is beautifully strummed.

The final breath of life on the original release, Dagger, is played similarly. Only an acoustic guitar, layered vocals, and very subtle background sound is present here. These two songs prove that Slowdive is not only capable of beauty when they pile up the guitars and assault the ears with a beautiful wall of sound. But that extreme is also utilized with significant success. The first song Alison is the most poppy thing on the album if anything here could be remotely considered poppy, and was accompanied by a so-so music video. To me, this is the kind of album that deserves visual treatment in the mind only. Alison is a fine song and a good way to start the album off as it is in many ways representative to what the rest of the album has to offer. It is dense in pretty guitars, has a nice little melody and is a good piece of poetry. The segue into Machine Gun and then into the explosion of happy energy 40 Days is an impressive set of songs to start the album off on. But easily the most loud song on the album is Souvlaki Space Station, the muscle that complements some of Souvlaki’s more tender songs. But the song contains some contradiction in it’s structure. While it is loud and very dense, it also does a huge amount with very little. The entire song is simply one repeating riff that builds itself up and takes itself apart periodically, and it somehow manages to be very dreamy and hypnotic. Another popular song is When The Sun Hits, equally as loud as Souvlaki Space Station but instead a melancholy burst of desperation, another truly accomplished shoegaze masterwork.

It is only expected that this album has one or two weaker tracks. It is nothing short of a miracle that this album kept it up for seven tracks before degenerating mildly. And I really would say mildly, because both Altogether and Melon Yellow are darn good songs in their own right and only comparatively weak to the streak of perfection that preceded them. And hey, it might just be me, because people often cite Melon Yellow as a stronger track. I also think it would be a good thing to straighten out some questions about the different issues of the album. Souvlaki was first put out in 1993 on CD, vinyl, and cassette with the album ending on Dagger. It was then re-released in 1994 stateside with four extra tracks from the 5 EP, and they are in some ways essential to the mood of the album. The cover of Some Velvet Morning isn’t that exciting or great, and really neither is the nearly disturbing little instrumental Missing You. But the other two are truly worthy of being on Souvlaki. Good Day Sunshine is a relaxing trance-like foray into dream pop avante-garde and a gorgeously disorienting masterpiece of mood. Country Rain is also wonderfully gentle and exceptional. But the ultimate way to experience the album is the 2006 double disk reissue, with the original release on one disk and Outside Your Room, 5, and In Mind Remixes EPs all included. This is really nice because many of these songs are well worth checking out and are otherwise a pain to get ahold of, making the reissue even more of a treasure. Also of note are the rare Souvlaki Demos which truly increase the scope of what the album had to say through some fascinating b-sides that are unfortunatley of very mediocre sound quality but probably worth tracking down in any case.

I really don’t think the accomplishments of Slowdive on Souvlaki can be understated. The truth is, this is just as good and essential to the genre as Loveless, and is an all out wonderful album. Souvlaki is one of the few albums that goes off in many directions while keeping it’s focus, and it ends up being a dark, melodic, crushing, gentle, soaring, sexual, and contemplative masterpiece that is completely representative of Slowdive’s unique style. While Slowdive had already made some great music and would make some more in the future, everything in their career points back to this album. This is one of the best albums of it’s kind and should not be missed by anyone who wants to know anything about shoegaze.

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One comment

  1. I have to agree with you that the album is perfect although I think “I am the elephant you are the mouse” was the peak of their emotional fountain.
    However souvlaki is a greek takeaway, not italian.
    Cheers 😉



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