Where were you when Slowdive was formed back in 1989? NOT BORN YET?!! Thanks a lot, you’ve just made Simon Scott and I feel old. But there’s a huge difference between old and irrelevant and old and vital, and Scott lands firmly on the latter side. Although he’s shifted styles a number of times, he’s never stopped composing or performing. Soundings was recorded during four years of touring with his re-formed band. The album is the product of “a life in flux … constant change and jet lag … hotel rooms, flights and distant cities.” As such, it feels disconnected with land, often touching down but with the knowledge it will not be able to stay too long.
The first field recording is the best, and most obvious: 85mph winds from Hurricane Barney, whipping up a storm expressed here in a morass of strings. These strings, played by Charlie Campagna & Zachary Paul, are a constant presence throughout the album, but in “Hodos” they sound foreboding, the cello unable to escape the churn. The bellbirds and cicadas that close the piece are not from the storm, but from the safety of Brisbane, many moons later and half a world away, offering evidence that we carry our memories with us and they blur in collision with other experiences. Scott would get as far as the Arctic Circle, an ironic mention given the fact that a famous explorer who shares his surname would perish while returning from Antarctica.
Scott’s wandering synth and electronics echo his own journey, providing few signposts along the way. The tracks drift together like sheets of polar ice. One would think the setup would preclude a single, but there’s actually one included here: the streaming edit of “Grace,” which Scott released in full as an 18-minute track back in August. In our opinion, the album’s only miscalculation is that at 52 minutes, the album had room to include the full composition. Scott opted instead to offer a 20-minute live track as a bonus cut, while extending the mix to 60 minutes for the cassette. But don’t despair, fans of long music; the album closes with its best track, the quarter-hour “Apricity.”
On “Apricity,” all the threads come together. The length of the piece allows one to surrender to the flow of time, an important nuance as the album references the challenge of traveling between different time zones. While listening to “Apricity,” one feels a sense of drifting, falling (to quote The Ocean Blue’s 1989 hit). More importantly, one also gets a feeling of coming home, of finally being able to rest, of knowing that one is safe, the ground firm and stable beneath one’s bed. This beautiful, archaic word is defined as “the warmth of the sun in winter,” which lends itself to a wider interpretation: we feel the warmth of home, even when we are away. Somewhere in Cambridge, world tour complete, Scott is enjoying this reassurance. (Richard Allen)