Friday, December 9, 2011

Ride's "Nowhere": Music Review

A buzz surrounded the twentieth anniversary of Loveless by My Bloody Valentine and Nevermind by Nirvana this year. Certainly both albums represent wonderful achievements; another from this era earns its own celebration. Ride, four young men just out of school and all of about twenty, released its own impressive debut, after three strong four-song e.p.'s earlier in 1990. That fall, a few Americans like me who had paid import prices for whatever appeared on Alan
McGee's Creation label found ourselves paying again, if for a Sire record, for the eight songs on the British full-length Nowhere were appended by four from the latest of those e.p.'s, Fall.

Alan Moulder's mix reveals, in these Rhino remasters, a grittier coating over the hazy smear. The original album felt ethereal and woozy. As Jim De Rogatis' liner notes record, the "gigantic oceanic swell" of its cover art match Moulder's "disorienting" blend of aggression and delicacy. While shelved with shoegazers My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive upon its release, Nowhere hearkens back to this Oxford band's influences: the eclecticism of psychedelic Beatles, the guitar constructions of The Smiths, the lazy drift of Rain Parade and L.A.'s Paisley Underground, and the measured beat of The Velvet Underground.

The backwards loops opening this album, on "Seagull," signal the band's determination to re-create their favorite sounds. What the quartet adds is an aggression that takes from British post-punk what The Smiths and the Paisley Underground pioneered: a meatier guitar attack overlaying a more expansive, subtly folksier vocals. Andy Bell's Rickenbacker 12-string takes charge, electrified, phased, and distorted. Mark Gardener supports on guitar, with a wistful, understated voice that wafts over the sonic waves: the swaying drums of Laurence "Loz" Colbert and Steve Queralt's steady bass. De Rogatis' comparisons of this rhythm section to that of The Who are, typically for this astute critic of Sixties rock, well-chosen.

"Kaleidoscope" brings, as its title promises, a swirling style, lighter as Gardener's lyrics float upon a propulsive, yet jittery melody recalling a gentler ballad, pressed into service of a more demanding, dreamily echoed direction. "In A Different Place" resembles The Smiths, a steadier pause after so much whirling action. "Polar Bear" roams into a more desolate landscape, closer to Echo and the Bunnymen, but replacing Ian McCulloch's stolid moans with Gardener's softer regret. Colbert's control of the snares and toms emerges in the production well to anchor this more simply composed tune.

Nearing the halfway point of the original album, "Dreams Burn Down" slows the pace. Colbert adapts a slightly funkier tap, backed by Queralt's own thumps, to introduce this melancholy evocation. Gradually, the guitars rise into an angry response, retreat into reconsideration, and flare into a final hiss.

In another version a standout song (missed on the accompanying L.A.'s Roxy concert in April 1991 disc), "Decay" showed on the BBC radio sessions Waves how the band could transform this tune based on an Eastern modal progression into a vehement expression live in the studio. In its original version here, it remains too muffled to reveal its full power, but the fading snare in the last seconds hints at what production might have captured.

The Roxy concert, on tour with Lush, shows a Ride diligently trying to capture its striated studio sound before an enthusiastic crowd on a small stage. The album's title track here distended, the early song "Like A Daydream," and two standouts dating back to their original demo tape--"Chelsea Girl," and the closing "Drive Blind"--allow the band a looser, unsettled energy that transforms their live abilities best. These particular songs at the Roxy compliment those on Waves, along with those on Live Light a few years later.

The band's most consistent songs came early in their brief career; they got grandiose, they tired, and they bickered and burned out. Even their original album needed to pause after so much energy expended.

"Paralysed" hints at Andy Bell's subsequent band's sound; Oasis could have written this. The fact I prefer Ride to Oasis may show the relative position of this track in how I rank its songs. It follows its titular feeling, or lack of feeling, too closely. Effects mask a weaker tune. Moulder's attempts to improve Marc Waterman's original production (abandoned in the making of the record) wander off into a work in progress. Its best moments remain a creepy sample, as if a crowd at a football match is being trampled. Perhaps a sly joke?

With "Vapour Trail" grace returns, and beauty arrives. A basic "la-la" garnishes the gentler vocals, and the music (augmented by keyboards and ending in strings) delivers an accessible example of a short shoegazer song. While the twin guitars of Ride earn critical acclaim, again I credit the drums for their constant guidance.

This album, in its American version, now takes over. "Taste" shows a lighter production style, more Beatles -meets-Byrds. This may document a period of the band before Moulder's direction, as these next three songs were on the British Fall e.p. "Here and Now" with its harmonica shuffles a mid-Sixties reference into a lysergically tinged, sleepy mood. It tries to move ahead, but the ambiance drags it back. This exemplifies the band's adaptation of earlier post-punk bands merging their perspective into that of previous visionaries. However, the song outlasts its welcome. By now, Nowhere, a dense, thick collection, needed to end.

The original U.S. album closed with its heavier title track. It imposes itself on the listener, over Gardener's half-chanted invocation. Harmonica wafts again, but now ghostly, above an array of processed guitar drones, an uneasy drumming pattern, tambourines, and a bass turning in on itself into a growling sound mix. This feels more like a bad trip than a pleasant ramble. It crumbles as if a plane going down into the sea, and the water washes over the remains of this song and the album as composed, as a seagull soars above the crash landing.

This re-release adds four songs from their fifth e.p., 1991's Today Forever. One can hear the next album, the prog-rock leaning Going Blank Again, already approaching. "Unfamiliar" stands more detached as the voice sinks into the churning, not chiming, guitar effects and the bass and drums thicken into a less distinguishable mass. Sustained pedals continue with the acoustically based "Sennen" while "Beneath" returns to the janglier feel of Fall. It finally wraps it up with a nearly symphonic, cinematic "Today" which could inspire Sigur Rós. Ride's tone keeps dispersing, as the band fades into its sleepy phase. This band stretches itself, and in these final songs the expanded Nowhere leaves behind a punchier, cheerier sensibility to sail into vast introspection. (Amazon US 11-27-11; featured at PopMatters 12-15-11)


The Gary Margey Experience said...

Great review man, the writing style on display is unique and relativley free from bullshit.
Time has been taken to listen to the album (as opposed to the usual quasi-critical drivel with it's boots laid firmly in the muck of a press release). Ride (at this early stage) created a wonderful sound - well up there with the most creative artists in history. I agree that certain tracks, such as the actual song nowhwere border on weak, the majority is majestic so lets drink to a fantastic review and a briliant album......all that said, Andy Bell lost the plot after Ride.. Hurricane #1 and fucking Beady Eye. He's clearly so much better than that shit......just my opinion :)

Fionnchú said...

Gary, let's raise a glass! Thanks for your spirited praise and I agree about Bell (can't stand Oasis either). I also admire a lot of "Going Blank" and "Carnival of Light" and the BBC versions on "Waves." I find them grittier than some of the sheen on the studio versions. Best wishes from a fellow fan.