Souvlaki arrived smack dab in the middle of Slowdive’s release chronology; as the achetypal middle record, it sanded away the rough edges of their early work while expanding on their initial good ideas and incorporating influences from sonic blueprints laid by others. The result was a record that made Slowdive synonymous not just with Creation Records, but with dream pop as a genre as well.
While personally I lean towards the noisier end of the shoegaze spectrum, I can’t think of any litmus test the opener “Alison” would fail. The distant, siren-like vocals of Rachel Goswell and Neil Halstead float on an enormous, gushing wave of reverb and delay-drenched melodies. “40 Days” and “Altogether” are similarly chock-full of gossamer washes of guitar bliss. While labelmates My Bloody Valentine focused on obscuring the human elements of their sound with feedback and distortion, Slowdive focused on building their sonic palette around their songs, heavily influenced by the Cocteau Twins, the dream-like chill of The Cure’s Disintegration as well as Brian Eno’s ambient works.
In fact, Eno produces two tracks on Souvlaki (“Sing” and “Here She Comes”), both of which foreshadow the band’s eventual shift towards the ambient electronic sound of their final full-length, 1995’s Pygmalion*. To be honest, I find myself skipping over these and heading straight for the kraut-rock flavour of “Souvlaki Space Station” and “When the Sun Hits”. Both are towering monuments of cavernous bass and echoing riffs that perfectly capture the band’s intricate web of influences.
Overall, it’s a fantastic album whose influences can be seen everywhere, from Sigur Ros and Mazzy Star, to the majority of releases pegged as “shoegaze revival”
* NB: Yes, I'm aware that they released a self-titled LP in 2017. No, I haven't listened to it, although I imagine they must have performed part of it when I saw them live. They missed the cutoff for "followup album" by about 20 years, so I stand by original assessment.