MOVIES THAT DON’T SUCK: Pitchfork Media documentary sheds light on history of Slowdive album

I can confidently and proudly say that I’ve seen at least 90 percent of all the artist Mac DeMarco’s interviews on YouTube – that’s a lot.

But it’s not just that I have an obsession with DeMarco.

Whenever I find a new album that I enjoy, I pore over a band’s interviews and live performances.

I take this analytical approach for two reasons: the interviews and performances are entertaining, but more importantly, they provide insight into the music.

In DeMarco’s case, you’ll learn that he’s a goofball, that he hates Chipotle and that he loves Billy Joel.

But even if the insight you gain isn’t seemingly important, this process makes the music more personal, and it gives a more complete picture of the musician.

For these reasons, I’m thankful for Pitchfork Media’s music documentaries.

The online music news and criticism publication has a number of well-done album and artist-focused web documentaries.

The most notable – of the three I’ve seen – is director Michael Garber’s in-depth history of Souvlaki, Slowdive’s sophomore album.

You’ll learn that this English band was important in the emerging shoegaze scene in the early ‘90s – a genre of music characterized by its heavy use of dreamy guitar pedals, noisy guitars and subdued lyrics.

The word “shoegaze” describes artists’ tendencies to play with their heads down, partly to convey a feeling of detachment and partly to manage the many effects pedals these artists use.

But Garber’s documentary is less about the general shoegaze scene and more about Slowdive’s beginnings, eventual success and decline as a band.

Individualized interviews (rather than group interviews) with each band member are at the film’s core, while other interviews with those that worked directly with Slowdive fill in the gaps.

And while the band’s origins are interesting, the documentary’s strength lies in its methodical but fluid, song-by-song analysis of Souvlaki.

Viewers get an extremely personal look into not only how each song was shaped but also what songwriter Neil Halstead’s emotions were at the time.

The audience learns that Halstead’s breakup with longtime girlfriend and bandmate Rachel Goswell provided the creative impetus for Souvlaki.

And, more interestingly, we learn that Halstead cured his writer’s block by writing at least a fourth of the album in almost complete isolation.

“I was in North Wales in the middle of nowhere for two weeks, just basically with a four track just trying not to go outside too much,” Halstead says.

These details are telling. And, at least for me, knowledge of the writer’s process alters one’s perception of the music.

From a more technical standpoint, Pitchfork’s Souvlaki documentary is effective due to its well-edited content.

In other words, there’s diversity. Viewers will watch interviews with band members, but these segments are appropriately broken up with musical interludes, footage of live performances and psychedelic music videos.

And at the end of 50 minutes, with my newfound knowledge, I couldn’t wait to listen to the album again.

After immersing myself in the band’s mythology and writing process, it was like listening to an entirely new album. I was Neo, and I saw the code.

“40 Days” wasn’t a “drug” song anymore, but was instead a breakup song.

And I wasn’t a Slowdive fan before. Even if you’re just a music enthusiast, you’ll appreciate it.

But if you find out that shoegaze really doesn’t tickle your fancy, Pitchfork has other options.

If you’re a Mac DeMarco fiend, check out “Pepperoni Playboy.” They also have videos on Tobias Jesso Jr., Modest Mouse, Diplo, Wavves and 50 other music documentaries.

Check ‘em out. They’re free.

—By Maxwell Shukuya


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