A couple of weeks ago an analysis by the website Chartmetric concluded that, since TikTok became popular around 2019, the average length of a song has nosedived while the length of albums is going up. It’s prompted by artists working out that they’ll earn more through streaming if fans listen to a greater quantity of shorter songs, and also by the attention-grabbing clips of TikTok requiring them to race to the chorus in seconds or risk losing their audience to the next thing.
It sounds convincing, but does nothing to explain the simultaneous resurgence of the meandering, unhurried shoegaze scene. An indie subgenre that got its silly name through the bands’ tendency to stare down through their floppy fringes at their guitar effects pedals instead of interacting with their fans, it produced top 10 albums in the early Nineties for My Bloody Valentine and Ride but attracted ridicule when it started to look self-indulgent next to the coarser, more immediate thrills of Britpop. Slowdive were dropped by Creation Records in 1995, in between the first two albums by their rather more noticeable labelmates, Oasis.
But My Bloody Valentine’s acclaimed reunion at the end of the 2000s, together with the rise of new bands under the slightly more flattering “dreampop” tag, such as Beach House and Alvvays, has led to a realisation that this sound has dated far less drastically than most of Britpop’s red, white and blue fare. On their second album since they got back together in 2014, their fifth overall, the quintet slide easily back into their sonic bubblebath. The reverb on everything means singers Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead sound no older, and the guitars swirl in a way that was made for horizontal headphone listening.
In what counts as a new development, Halstead has been playing with modular synthesisers in his home studio, giving a retro Kraftwerk feel to the long intro of Shanty and the softer electronic loops of Chained to a Cloud. He initially conceived of this album as being more electronic overall, but once his bandmates arrived, the guitar textures began to dominate again. The instrumental Prayer Remembered is a blissful blur, while Kisses has a pretty jangle and more energy – relatively speaking.
The festivals and stadium sets of the Blur and Pulp reunions might feel more exciting to those who were actually there in the Nineties, but it seems like this is the band that today’s kids are drifting towards. Maybe they do have attention spans after all.