What separated Ride from their 90’s shoegaze peers was their wildly fun, cocksure take on the sound. The four lads from Oxford fused the genre’s trademark melted guitar tones and dreamy songwriting into youthful power pop that maintained its immediacy even during the band’s noisier tendencies.
After releasing two classics, 1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again, Ride’s hot streak stalled with 1994’s middling Carnival of Light. Around the release of 1996’s largely ignored Tarantula, the creative differences between co-leaders Mark Gardener and Andy Bell finally crumbled the group.
Now, over 20 years later, the band have returned with Weather Diaries, a record that Bell eagerly described as “”equal parts Motorhead and William Basinski. While certainly a head scratching description, longtime fans shouldn’t worry as this is an excellent return that has absolutely nothing to do with ambient speed metal.
U.K producer Erol Alkan’s glossy, full bodied production is a large part of what makes Weather Diaries so damned captivating. Coupled with mixing by longtime collaborator Alan Moulder, the album offers the chance to hear what Ride can conjure in modern high definition, a thrilling prospect for band so dependent on how it wields sound rather than vocals or lyrics.
Further, the 11 tracks on Weather Diaries are carefully sequenced and arranged for maximum impact. The more immediate first half stuffs the album’s three singles one after the other while the second half offers a longer sonic odyssey for listeners to parse through.
Gardener and Bell’s soaring vocals and caterwauling guitar playing remain the core of Ride’s songwriting. On gently pulsating opener “Lannoy Point,” one creates a towering wall of noise as the other plays a gentle lead that glides over the former’s surface like a blurred reflection on a pond.
Drummer Laurence “Loz” Colbert and bassist Steve Queralt counter Gardener and Bell’s sound wizardry with subtle but assured performances. The smoldering propulsion of “Rocket Silver Symphony” would be lost without Colbert’s fills acting as a tether to Bell and Gardener’s mind expanding playing.
It’s this partnership and tight sense of arrangement that result in Weather Diaries most thrilling moments. On the title track, the band deftly uses every second of the six minute runtime to gently guide a downtempo ballad into blissfully psychedelia before the entire track is consumed by a rumbling jet engine of distortion in the concluding moments. Numerous movements and tweaks ensure none of the songs simply linger on the same mind numbing repetition, a key choice that a lot of modern shoegaze records fall victim to.
Even “Cali,” which maintains its central bouncing riff for over six minutes, is worthy of several re-listens due to the amount of kaleidoscopic window dressing it’s stuffed with.
As an alternative to these lengthier moments, Ride offer a few songs of riff first rock that forgo hypnotic ambience in favor of pure adrenaline (the Motorhead, if you will). While the taut riffs of “Charm Assault” can’t rise above its mush-mouthed chorus melody, “Lateral Alice,” surges forward as Gardener narrates a hallucinatory dream involving David Foster Wallace, a surfing Robert Anton Wilson and murder.
Ride have wisely sidestepped retreading old ground by using an updated sonic palette for a furiously fun, endlessly listenable record in Weather Diaries. Whether the first sign of a late career renaissance or a corrective recourse to their shrugging split in the ‘90s, Bell, Gardener, Queralt and Colbert offer a comeback easily on par with their classic output.