Though the music world is incredibly cyclical, with genres re-emerging after lying dormant for decades at a time, there’s something different about the return of long-gone shoegaze acts My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, Medicine, and Swervedriver. Single legacy acts reunite after long absences, but it’s rare that entire tides of artists make their way back to the shore like this. Much like their compatriots, Swervedriver seems fueled by a sincere investment in the music rather than opportunism. With their first album in 17 years, the Oxford quartet pick up where they left off on the hit-or-miss 99th Dream, trying new things with genuine warmth.
99th Dream took a fair amount of criticism, seemingly because Swervedriver had softened some of the edges that differentiated them from their contemporaries. While it took nearly two decades to find out, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You suggests that that alteration wasn’t a one-off mistake, but rather the first steps of a new exploration.
The reunited four-piece has been playing together again for nearly seven years, and that time shows in the taut rhythms and zippering guitar from founding members Adam Franklin and Jimmy Hartridge. Opener “Autodidact” puts that wizardry on immediate display, the two guitarists sounding like rotating bandsaws at some points and crystalline raindrops at others. The woozy, punchy “Red Queen Arms Race” puts more bass into their blunt fuzz, as Franklin’s vocals get sucked through a black hole and pushed back out the other side along with a distorted blues solo. The elegiac “I Wonder?” pushes a by-the-book shoegaze structure, but the quartet clearly knows how to make hay even in this somewhat faded sunshine.
Rather than fit a grand reunion narrative with their return, Swervedriver sound refreshed yet uncertain what to do next — and they’re alright with that. I Wasn’t Born to Lose You likely won’t replace any fan’s favorite Swervedriver album, but much like the entire shoegaze revival, it’s an organic, heartfelt piece meant for those fans as much as the musicians making it.
Essential Tracks: “Autodidact”, “Red Queen Arms Race”