album reviews

Rachel Goswell
Waves Are Universal
4AD (2004)

Although Rachel Goswell has allied herself with some pretty big names—shoegazing with Slowdive and providing harmonies to Mojave 3—she's never really had a project of her own. Waves Are Universal finds her experimenting with her solo voice, alternating between simple vocal-driven melodies and lushly orchestrated pop tunes, creating music that's as light and airy as a weekend at the beach.

Waves spotlights Goswell's sweet, childlike soprano as she harmonizes with herself or echoes her melody, as on the slow-paced "Deelay." In fact, her singing is so often in the forefront that she rarely takes the instrumentation to any sort of climax, instead lingering through her songs, pausing to squish sand between her toes on "Thru the Dawn" or watching the reflection of a sunrise in "Beautiful Feeling." One exception is "Coastline," where her unusually understated voice is complemented by an arrangement so lavish that it sounds like a Slowdive song—with vocals floating like sea gulls above highly repetitive chords that crescendo into an all-out beach party.

Where these songs falter is in their lyrics, often only about as deep as a summer fling ("You give me hope/ and that's just fine," she repeats on "Hope"), but most of the time these words are as easily ignored as a passing cloud on an otherwise clear day. Waves may not contain any earth-shattering songwriting, but it sure is pretty: Sometimes it's OK for beauty to be only surface-deep, and a summer tan's inevitable fading doesn't ruin its momentary radiance.

-Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: the Baltimore CityPaper: 14 July 2004
.: Waves Are Universal on