Ride 2024
Photo: Cal McIntyre / Orienteer

Ride Turn Dreamy on New Album ‘Interplay’

Ride continue their second phase with ‘Interplay’, an album full of melodic atmosphere lacking some of the creative yearning heard in their earlier work.

29 March 2024

The past few years have seen a revival of bands from the early 1990s whose early careers were rudely cut off by sudden shifts in trends. Branded as dream pop or “shoegaze” (a pejorative term since reclaimed), groups like Ride, Drop Nineteens, Slowdive, and Swervedriver combined elements of psychedelia and noise rock with ethereal pop inspired by, particularly, the Cocteau Twins.

These bands (along with Chapterhouse, Lush, Medicine, and Pale Saints) enjoyed brief notoriety before grunge and Britpop – both more visceral forms of revivalism – turned the tide against their dreamier forebears. By the mid-1990s, the shoegazers could hardly get arrested, and most of the bands, including Ride, broke up.

Although they cited influences in line with their contemporaries – My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Stone Roses – Ride, formed in Oxford, England in 1988, never fit comfortably under the “shoegaze” umbrella. “My first reaction was like, this is another boring tag,” singer-guitarist Andy Bell recalled in a 2003 PopMatters interview.

Guitar groups from the 1960s, like the Byrds or the Beau Brummels, were as influential on Ride as anything from noisier terrain. After a pair of definitive albums, 1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again, Ride simplified their sound on 1994’s Carnival of Light, an album of concise folk-rock – disowned (to my ears, far too harshly) by the music press and the group themselves.

Tensions between Bell and co-frontman Mark Gardener increased, and after 1996’s Britpop-infused Tarantula, Ride broke up acrimoniously. Bell joined Oasis in 1999, playing bass during that band’s final decade (and, later, with Liam Gallagher in Beady Eye). Gardener launched a low-key solo career. Interest in Ride persisted, however, as Nowhere and Going Blank Again turned up on various critics’ lists of best albums of the 1990s.

In late 2014, Ride announced their reformation—a welcome surprise to lingering fans. Initial tours performing classic material (including Nowhere in its entirety) led to two new albums, 2017’s Weather Diaries and 2019’s This Is Not a Safe Place. Both albums varied the pop jangle of earlier material as producer Erol Alkan steered Ride into adopting electronic textures drawn from the worlds of electronic and ambient music.

Five years since their last release, Ride have returned with Interplay, an album less experimental than the previous two but strong on the melodic front. Like Slowdive’s Everything Is Alive, another shoegaze reboot from last year, Interplay trims the harder edges off Ride’s classic sound, moving closer to the dream pop realm as synthesizers mingle with guitars.  

The results are somewhat mixed. Bell and Gardener’s songwriting remains solid as “Peace Sign”, “Monaco”, and “Midnight Rider” deliver instantly memorable hooks in washes of tight vocal harmonies. Reverb-drenched guitars recall the classic Ride sound as echoes of psychedelia haunt the songs. Analog synths add electronic and occasional New Wave textures, suggesting that the influence Ride has had on newer bands (Beach House, M83, MGMT) is a two-way street.

Something feels slightly amiss, however, as Interplay flows along without many surprises like those delivered five years ago on This is Not a Safe Place. That album challenged Ride as the almost industrial spirit of “Kill Switch” gave way to the transcendent melodies of “Shadows Behind the Sun”. Preparing for this review, I found myself returning to that album repeatedly, attracted by a spirit of invention less apparent in the new release.  

Still, Interplay is a solid set without obvious weaknesses in the writing or production. Two longer tracks, “Light in a Quiet Room” and “Essaouira”, develop oceanic atmospheres over Loz Colbert’s imaginative drumming and Steve Queralt’s fuzzy bass. Producer Richie Kennedy (Interpol, the Libertines) ensures that Ride balances their sonic legacy with a contemporary feel, and Claudius Mittendorfer’s mixes bring out the ambient textures in the music.  

Only one later track, “Portland Rocks”, sees Ride rock out in ways akin to their early albums. The song comes as a refreshing change of pace after numerous mid-tempo meditations. A rare touch of humor informs the title – a reference, presumably, to Ride’s recent milk runs around the US club circuit with the Charlatans. A little more of the energy expressed in “Portland Rocks” would have given Interplay the variety it sometimes lacks.

Interplay is available in various forms, including double black vinyl in a gatefold sleeve and limited editions on red and blue-green vinyl. A CD in a mini-gatefold wallet packaging is in general release, and there is even a cassette edition listed on the band’s website. Overall, Interplay is a record for fans of Ride—recommended on that basis. Newcomers to the group may want to dip their feet earlier in Ride’s catalogue, at least for starters.

RATING 7 / 10