[12 June 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Donkeys’ fourth and latest album, Ride the Black Wave, doesn’t pick up where its predecessors left off so much as twist the same set of influences into something new. It draws a clear line to the group’s eponymous debut and sophomore record Living on the Other Side in its devotion to all things laid-back classic rock, country rock, and outlier-folk. Meanwhile, it finds in its haze a moody counterpart to the modern clarity the band displayed on the last record, Born with Stripes.
On this album, the Donkeys have never been so in control of atmosphere; expansive opener “Sunny Daze”, for instance, shifts from carefree rocker to overcast mood piece on the strength of perfectly cascading keys and textured guitar solos. “Scissor Me Cigs” is melted on all sides by distant ringing tones, awash in just enough distortion to make them sound off-kilter. The title track pits grinding guitar phrasings against angelic backing vocals with effortless charm. The best parts of Ride the Black Wave uses the band’s experimental streak and easy charisma to create internal tensions in otherwise breezy tunes. The experiments can sometimes push too far to fit, as on “Imperial Beach”, while other moments (like “Blues in the Afternoon”) seem cut off too soon, but overall Ride the Black Wave is another solid, unexpected sound from the San Diego outfit.