Ride should’ve filled stadiums. They certainly had the sound to pull it off. The quartet blasted out of the same Oxford, UK music scene as Radiohead on the strength of banshee walls of guitar noise and the endorsement of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Their near-perfect debut LP, Nowhere, predated the hazy squall of My Bloody Valentine’s masterpiece Loveless by over a year. Their sophomore effort, Going Blank Again, added in a melodic sensibility that foreshadowed the rise of Britpop. But an intense touring schedule and monumental expectations (both commercial and creative) took their toll on the group. They released two more LPs of diminishing returns in 1993 and 1996, and the band fell apart during the recording sessions for the latter. Andy Bell went on to join Oasis on bass as that group realized their own stadium-status aspirations in the wake of (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and the other bandmembers led quiet lives in and out of the music world. They left in their wake a discography that influenced the sound of hundreds of shoegaze and post-rock groups for the next two decades.
Nowhere must have sounded like a revelation when it first hit stores in October of 1990, as ominous and alien as the cresting S-wave on its cover. The record bursts with chiming open-voiced chords, scrambling drum lines from Laurence Colbert, and eerily calm vocals from Bell and Mark Gardener. The quality of the guitar work (and, particularly, the guitar tone) on Nowhere can’t be overstated, a gargantuan synergy of sheer talent and a long chain of effects pedals. But their remarkable textural sonic tapestries are joined by a divine ear for melody, and everything comes together on the late-album knockout “Dreams Burn Down.” Gardener’s pretty vocals and the reverberating plucked arpeggios belie the anguish of the lyrics: “I just want what I can’t have/’Til my dreams burn down and choke me every time.” Cue: hailstorm of dissonant chords. Closer “Vapour Trail” charges forward into the deep blue sky with jangling 12-strings, but fades into the outro groove with rich cellos.
Follow-up Going Blank Again was a top-10 gold-certified hit in their native England, and with good reason. It built on the sound of its predecessor and took things in unexpected new directions. The rhythm section of Colbert and Steve Queralt is front and center in the mix, snappy and immediate. Sequenced synthesizers are added to the equation, burbling forth in the opening seconds of “Leave Them All Behind,” but the perfection of the guitar-and-vocal harmonies remain completely intact. Songs like “Twisterella” and “Chrome Waves” are before their time, commercial non-starters at the peak of grunge hype, but they could have been potential chart-toppers only four years later in the peak of the Blur vs. Oasis radio (and tabloid) wars. Sadly, Ride would never create again on this awe-inspiring level, but the early albums and EPs are more than enough to justify the group’s legacy.
Fast forward to last November, when they announced their decision to dust the amps off once again. The four original members returned to the stage at the O2 Academy in Oxford this past April before crossing the Atlantic for a west coast jaunt that included appearances at both weekends of Coachella. After a lengthy European summer tour riddled with festival sets, they mark their return to the U.S. with a long string of dates across autumn, including a headlining gig here at Midpoint Music Festival. It’s one of the most exciting bookings in the event’s long history, and sure to be among the highlights of the weekend.
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