Wichita Recordings · February 16, 2018
Cleaner is not always better. Sometimes stubble looks good on people. Sometimes you need a little bacteria to make cheese (which we can generally agree is a great invention). And who wants to listen to the clean version of a rap album? This nugget of wisdom also applies to Ride, who, along with My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and others, were some of the first to explore the wonderful world of shoegaze. For those of you who don’t know, shoegaze was a branch of rock that emerged in the late 80s and early 90s, fusing delicious sugary pop melodies with a WHOLE lotta reverb and guitar fuzz. It was named shoegaze because the bands who played it live would get so lost in the drones and the fuzz that they would just stand there and gaze at their – wait for it – shoes.
Now let’s take a look at Tomorrow’s Shore, Ride’s second offering since they reunited in 2014. It’s a brief, sub-20 minute EP, a collection of songs that didn’t make it into their 2017 full length. Much like that album, Tomorrow’s Shore is a nice distillation of the modern Ride. For context on what “the modern Ride” means, consider this: Ride is a band that has spent the last 20 years or so watching itself become legendary. While they’ve been on hiatus the last two decades, they’ve essentially been canonized, achieving god status in the shoegaze pantheon. How on earth do you make a successful comeback in the 21st century with that kind of hype? Honestly, I don’t think they thought about it too hard.
Much like the old one, the modern Ride doesn’t aspire to be a whole lot more than loud and pretty. Tomorrow’s Shore succeeds on both of those counts. “Pulsar” in particular is a sumptuous piece of work. It’s got spacey synth pads, grinding guitars, and driving drums all whipped up into a dense, glossy froth of well-produced dream pop. It’s great to listen to. But it’s also sort of… clean. Yeah, I’m finally looping back to that introduction. Everything on Tomorrow’s Shore is right where it needs to be. It’s got all the right elements in the right places: carefree psychedelic lyrics delivered in a charming, boyish tenor, droning guitars, and machinelike rhythms executed with absolute precision. Nothing is accidental. Everything is neat and nice and a little boring. It’s so well polished that it doesn’t sound real, and I don’t hear much of that messy, youthful vitality that made their early output so cosmic. Going back to my introduction again: if 90’s Ride was cheese, then 2018 Ride is… I don’t know, a Kraft Single?
The pacing of Tomorrow’s Shore is lackluster, too. Aside from “Pulsar,” the EP consists entirely of mid-tempo slow burners that should be energetic, but end up sounding tired. They’re not bad songs, but something about their execution is off-putting, like the band had a little too much cough syrup in the studio. “Keep It Surreal,” for one, would be pretty sick if it was about 20 BPM faster, and “Cold Water People” would sound better if the vocals and over-processed drums weren’t so stagnant and zombie-like.
Go back and listen to Ride when they released Nowhere, a shoegaze masterpiece that remains their best album by far. It was filthy as all hell. It was a 10-ton hornet’s nest of distorted guitars being battered against the rocks by a 20-ton drum kit that was in turn being strangled by about 4 different layers of glorious vocal harmonies, delivered in the most charming and unabashedly British way you can imagine. And it all came together into one glorious, oversaturated whole. It was the sound of a band pushing the tape to its absolute limits: how much volume and noise can a physical medium store? I feel bad for ragging on a band for “how good they used to be.” Might as well take their new stuff on its own merits, right? But in this case, it’s hard to ignore just how exhilarating Nowhere was (and still is), and how dull a song like “Catch You Dreaming” sounds in comparison. Bummer.