It’s not a bad year for new albums from the halcyon days of shoegaze and dream pop. It’s been only a month or so since Slowdive came back with their first album in 22 years, and now Ride is back with a new album, Weather Diaries, on Wichita Recordings. Like Slowdive, Ride’s new album is their first in over two decades. Unlike Slowdive, Ride is shaking off some mid-90s records that found them deviating from the huge, propulsive sounds of classic albums Nowhere and Going Blank Again to forgettable results.
Thankfully, Weather Diaries hearkens back more than 25 years to those two excellent records without repeating those sonic palates outright. The new album takes the band’s knack for huge rhythms with thick layers of atmosphere piled on top of them and messes with the mix a bit. At its best, the album reminds us that this band, maybe more than any other thrown under the “shoegaze” umbrella, is a collection of songwriters with an impressive and immediate pop sensibility. That knack for hooks is on display right from the outset. Opener “Lannoy Point” teases with some distant keyboards and isolated, echoing guitar notes. But once the band kicks in, the song is a gigantic and dynamic power-pop gem. The song lets the rhythm section lead, with snapping drums and heavy bass, before guitars slash their way in on angular hooks and thick, distorted chords. The song carefully builds its layers and then blows them up in the to-the-rafters chorus.
Carefully building to controlled bursts of noise drives all the best moments of this record. If early Ride could expand out into any space, on Weather Diaries the band seems to explore what would happen if you tethered those sounds down. And caging them in, it turns out, can up the tension and the pay off. The guitars on “Charm Assault,” for example, lean out some, but the layered vocals reverb-soaked verses give the growling chords something airy to fight their way through. “All I Want” skews dreamier than either of the first two songs, sampling and cutting up vocals to make the beat skitter, and those added elements puncture the hazy patina of keyboards that fill up the song. Later in the record, “Cali” starts with gut-shaking bass and drums, but the rhythm eventually hides under sweet vocal melodies and tangled layers of guitar and keys.
These moments present a version of Ride’s sound that may be a bit easier to get a handle on. You can see the borders of it, though what’s happening in between those borders is as complex and dynamic as anything the band made 25 years. Elsewhere on the record, though, the balance shifts to atmospheric spaces that feel too indulgent for their own good. Many of these moments lose the energy and propulsion that has always existed at the heart of the band’s best music. Both “Home Is A Feeling” and “Lateral Alice fare the best in marrying pop immediacy with murkier textures, even if those songs don’t quite match the heft of the songs that come before. Elsewhere, though, the songs slow down too much to keep any momentum. The title track, for instance, starts strong but eventually unfolds into the album’s loudest, most expansive moment. The initial impact of all the squall and distortion may thrill, but the longer it goes on the more it feels like something you’ve heard before. Short mood piece “Integration Tape” nearly brings the album to a dead stop, as it’s churned up wall of sound never quite pulls in enough interest to justify it being here, and it makes for a stale introduction to the deliberately paced “Impermanence,” a song which might fare better without that slow lead in.
This issue of propulsion — or lack there of in places — may also be a care of sequencing. Weather Diaries ends with another slow number, titled “White Sands,” that actually introduces a bit of tension back into the mix with some teeth-grinding guitar distortion cutting into the song’s gauzy layering. But after a few indulgently moody songs in a row, it’s not quite enough to bring the album all the way back. There’s still something thrilling in hearing Weather Diaries, and in seeing Ride — at least in places — twist their sound and push it in new places. The best parts are worthy contributions to their catalog, and worth the price of admission here. But as a whole, Weather Diaries isn’t the brilliant Ride return fans might hope for. Though there’s enough here to suggest it could be a start, the preamble to the next great Ride record.
Order the album directly from the label here.