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Rachel Goswell - Waves Are Universal

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Artist: Rachel Goswell

Album: Waves Are Universal

Label: 4AD

Review date: Jul. 23, 2004

Rachel Goswell’s former band Slowdive were among the legends of the “shoegazer” movement. In recent years, the primary architects of this short lived but perennially influential style have spent creative energies on re-invention, shifting toward more organic approaches in production and recording. Goswell and fellow Slowdive ex-pats Neil Halstead and Ian McCutcheon re-assembled in Mojave 3, a group which eschewed the effected guitar washes and delayed vocals of their former unit, in favor of stripped down, often ghostly Americana.

Waves are Universal, Rachel Goswell’s first solo album, seeks to expand upon this bare-bones method of song craft and recording. Emphasis is placed on Goswell’s unadorned vocals without any tendency to mask or effect the natural tonality. For the most part, this approach works. There is a tender immediacy to each melody, with imperfections and unpolished edges in sharp relief against the mahogany tone of the instrumental accompaniment. At times, however, these brave production choices don’t seem to play to Goswell’s strength as a singer; there is a loss of some of the mystery and opaque sensuality that marked her earlier vocal contributions.

The instrumentation on Waves are Universal is proficient, but hardly revelatory. Gone is the wide open tremolo of Slowdive, and the spaced-out country vibe so marvelously exploited by Mojave 3 has been shuffled to the back of the deck. Waves is an album filled with nice touches and sincere sentiment, not much more. There are standouts, of course – the haunting “Deelay“ winds like a snake, with sustained guitar lines weaving through hypnotic hand percussion and acoustic guitar. Goswell sounds particularly convincing, her voice expressing loss with a grave dignity. Much of the time, however, the recipe of finger-picked acoustic guitar and hushed, confessional vocals seems a little too familiar.

With time, Rachel Goswell may emerge a solo talent on par with her Mojave 3 compatriot Neil Halstead. The effort and patience that went into crafting Waves are Universal is to be commended; the album contains moments of beauty and cloistered intensity. Yet to truly define herself amidst the crowd of singer/songwriters, Rachel Goswell needs to push just a little bit harder.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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