Like sloths emerging from hibernation, the shoegazers are currently pulling back their fringes and dragging themselves out of a decade or two of comatose slumber. Mainstays Slowdive and Ride have both reunited of late as the shoegaze revival has grown far more respect and staying power than the original scene.
Ahead of the Curve (geddit?) were Oxford’s Swervedriver, the grungier end of The Scene That Celebrated Itself, who laced their swirling guitar maelstroms with chunky Smashing Pumpkins noise, sang almost exclusively about gas-guzzling American cars and who reunited back in 2008./o:p
I Wasn’t Born To Lose You is their first album since reuniting though, and their first in seventeen years. They’ve returned somewhat more refined than they left on 1998’s unfocused 99th Dream.
Adopting the glistening guitar lines and dreamy harmonising of their peers Teenage Fanclub, the celestial warps of My Bloody Valentine and the ominous chug of Dinosaur Jr, openers Autodidact and Last Rites set a reassuringly back-to-basics tone, their keening strings and galactic guitar churn building a texture and tension redolent of their classic 1991 debut Raise.
The overall effect is that of a gentler, older and mildly stoned version of Bob Mould’s 90s grunge-pop band Sugar, which doesn’t exactly signpost a seismic shift from Swervedriver’s first incarnation, but certainly roots I Wasn’t Born To Lose You in comfortable ‘antique indie’ territory. It’s an insider’s wink, an unchallenging throwback to a more challenging time.
A mild air of menace pervades Everso and Setting Sun, singer Adam Franklin sighing a tale of seafaring woe – ‘We were terrorised as we reached the hull and the ship capsized’ – over off-kilter arpeggios that give the track the feel of a shipwrecked Afghan Whigs. It rears up again on Red Queen Arms Race, a brutalized, deformed blues that features Franklin singing in the warped style of ghosts trying to get messages through to cinematic séances.
But the prevailing vibe is a noisy 90s familiarity; Deep Wound or Lone Star could be the sound of Sebadoh records being fired around the Large Hadron Collider.
There’s frustration in hearing a band from one of rock’s most sonically exploratory and mind-expanding scenes failing to engage with the vast array of inventive post-psych nuttiness flying around today’s alternative scene, but when closer I Wonder explodes into a cataclysm of brilliantly unhinged space scree, it promises an adventurous future to follow this consolidation comeback./o:p