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Ride “Weather Diaries” (2017)

In case you weren’t aware, Taiwan is now in the second month of it’s first wave of Covid lockdowns (hopefully our only wave, but that still remains to be seen). We managed to remain open and essentially untouched by all of this since the beginning, but then last month two separate yahoos managed to undo all of it… but I digress. My point is… I have suddenly found myself at home with LOTS of time on my hands because my school is not allowed to have in-person classes and we are not offering virtual ones… so… LOTS of time on my hands, hahah! Disappointingly, I have not been motivated to write much of anything (there was a lot of moping around) hence the lack of anything in May! I am becoming acclimatized to this stay-at-home order, though, and I am feeling more like myself again.

All this to say that I have been listening to a LOT of records recently! Earlier this week, I threw on Ride‘s amazing Going Blank Again and grooved around the apartment like Tom Cruise in Risky Business for about an hour. I have a beautiful 2012 double album version pressed at 45rpm and it sounded fantastic! There was a bit of a fumble when I started playing it at 33⅓, but I soon realized that something was amiss and corrected it… BUT that’s another story! I mention it only as an introduction as to why I was again listening to Weather Diaries from 2017…

Tonight, while watching the thunder clouds massing over the mountains, and the torrential rains approaching the city, I put Going Blank Again back in its sleeve and pulled out their 2017 offering Weather Diaries. I was actually reaching for OX4 (Ride’s Greatest Hits) but my fingers accidentally closed around this album instead. For some odd reason, as I pulled the record off the shelf and looked at the cover, I thought to myself “Eh” (insert a shrug here). I didn’t remember liking this one but what the hell. I decided to give it a go.

I threw side A onto my turntable, not really knowing what to expect. Honestly, I hadn’t heard it since it’s release. I opened up my database to see what my original impression of the album had been and to my utter surprise, I had rated the album a 4½ out of 5. So why did I have the impression that I hadn’t liked it? Apparently I had really enjoyed it.

This is what happens when you buy too many records and you rarely have the chance to listen to them more than once before putting them on the shelf and opening the next one. Luckily, this month’s soft lockdown has granted me a bit of breathing room to just BE. I have some space to just chill at home, catch up on some long-lingering projects, and revisit some albums that (apparently!) I had really enjoyed.

Let’s take a look at this one, shall we? To be honest, I’m going to write this from the perspective of a first impression because, honestly, I’ve only ever heard the album once or twice before and haven’t even the vaguest recollection of it. (hmmm I wonder if that’s age related? Note to self: get that looked at.)

According to my database, my first impressions of this album back in 2017 definitely correspond to my current feelings about it. My gut was spot on with this one. As I was listening to the album this afternoon, I completely agreed with my initial reaction. I’ve had it on repeat for the last 3 hours (although, to be strictly truthful, I’ve only played side 4 once).

Album opener “Lannoy Point” grabbed me from the start. It has a very typical Ride vibe to the vocals, but it chugs along like a train across a grand, wide-open countryside. I completely love it. It has a gorgeous little riff running through it that manages to sound almost electronic with a subtle kind of pulsing heartbeat, as if they asked Giorgio Moroder to suggest a little something to round out the track. It feels familiar, yet altogether new. It’s undeniably rock, but somehow airy and light rather than heavy and dark. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album!

“Charm Assault” is a real treat. It rocks a bit harder than the opening track and has a noisier vibe to it, but so far we were 2 for 2 and I was smiling from ear to ear. I definitely need to spend more time with this album. (That’s another note to self, by the way.. EDIT: I have actually been listening to it once or twice a day for the last week as I was writing this!)

“All I Want” returns to the bouncing vibe of “Lannoy Point” but reminds me very much of the Charlatans in their glory days. It has that edge to it that the Charlatans just OWNED on their debut album, Some Friendly. The repeated use of a sampled voice singing “All I Want” over and over is both hypnotic, insistent and brilliant.

“Home is a Feeling” manages to have that gorgeous shoegazy/dreampoppy groove that Slowdive did best on their debut album, Just For A Day. There is a Beatlesque quality to the gorgeous harmonies in the breathy vocals that remind me vaguely of The Beatles‘ “Sun King” from Abbey Road.

As Weather Diaries begins, we are once again transported to somewhere grand and dreamy. Perhaps in an effort to finally rid themselves of that shoegaze moniker, the vocals, as with most of the vocals on this album, are far more out in-front than previous dreampop/shoegaze efforts by Ride (or even by many of their contemporaries). The song has a beautiful dreampop sound to it, though it is wider and less buried in a wall of sound until it reaches the middle, and then it becomes this cottony whirl of noise and sound that is at once chilled-out and blissed-out. Somewhere around the 5 minute mark, the distortion and feedback just become the sound of roiling clouds moving across the sky and thunder booming through wide open spaces. You can feel it in your gut, even while listening on headphone. It’s magic!

By now we’ve just about reached the midway point and there hasn’t been a single low point on the album. Side C continues this trend and doesn’t disappoint.

“Rocket Silver Symphony” fades in with a crescendo of waves that sounds like enormous, ponderous waves crashing onto the shore, or perhaps it’s the sound of vapour trails as the rocket ascends into the sky? It doesn’t actually go anywhere for almost 2 minutes, just rising slowly but then as the beat comes in, it brings to mind 80s New Wave à la Kim Wilde, but much slower, darker, and a bit more sinister. The vocals during the verses is so dry and sing-song that they are definitely channelling “Kids in America” … Something about this song makes me feel like Ride has a secret love of 80s New Wave… And this is NOT a bad thing. The song is BRILLIANT, but you really gotta bear with it for that intro (something Ride is notorious for)!

“Lateral Alice” just KICKS. It’s got that driving “and.1.and..2. …and.1.and..2” that just gets you moving. You’ll know EXACTLY what I mean when you hear it, Promise. Add some lovely fuzzy dreampop guitars and you’ve got magic. Still very much Ride doing their own personal brand of wall-of-noise, but its got just a hint of that Elastica punk vibe.

“Cali” starts with a beat that reminds me a little bit of The Drums first album, but there the similarity ends. It has those gorgeous Ride harmonies again, with a really subtle hint of an homage to the sound of Fabian strutting across the beach. It’s by no means surf music or 1960s Beach Boys, but this is definitely Ride at their sunniest. Have you seen the episode of the Flintstones where they are staying at a luxury beach hotel, but the beach gets overrun by teenagers and then Fred ends up participating in a surfing contest? There’s a scene in that episode where a pop idol is singing his latest hit and twisting across the sand with an acoustic guitar, everyone screaming and falling at his feet. For whatever reason, that scene always comes to mind when I listen to this song hahaha! I’m sure it’s because of the snare drum and the little shuffle to the beat. Maybe that’s just me? Maybe it’s because of the title? Maybe it’s because of the gorgeous clean guitar (no distortion! Whaaaaat?) Or maybe it’s because it reminds me of an amazing vacation I had a few years ago in Santa Monica, California… whatever the reason, it sounds really sunny and sandy. It’s truly one of the standout tracks on the album!

Now, as we enter the endgame, however, the tone turns far more sombre.

“Integration Tape”, the first track on side D is a drag. Literally. It’s basically 2 and half minutes of long, echoing notes that have a lot of reverb, but no discernible melody. Other reviewers have compared it to My Bloody Valentine, but I just didn’t get it. It’s reminiscent of waves crashing against the sand, which sounds beautiful in theory, but it’s as exciting to listen to as a dripping faucet. I certainly couldn’t get into it after the upbeat bounce of “Cali”. It’s short, though, which was it’s only real saving grace.

Unfortunately, once the last note fades on “Integration Tape”, the next two tracks, “Impermenance” and “White Sands”, end up feeling moody and somber. Rather than closing the album on a high, they both give a real bummer vibe. Neither track really does it for me within the context of the album, and though I like them both well enough on their own, they would have been better served on an EP or a single.

“Impermenance” just feels out of place. It comes across as a random bit of 80s indie-pop to my ears. After rocking out to “Lateral Alice” and “Cali”, and even the pointless noise of “Integration Tape” it feels a bit C86. To it’s credit, its does remind me of the intro from “Vapour Trail”, but It’s just too twee after “Cali”. Of course, if I were to put it on a mix-tape with a bunch of songs from Sarah Records bands (like Brighter) I’d probably love it. I has a lot of things going for it, but not here, and not now.

Album closer “White Sands”, on the other hand, has a grand scope.  It has a somber feel to it, but it incorporates quite a mixture of different musical ideas. Somewhere around two minutes into the song, it has hints of the beautiful guitar work of Randy Rhodes in Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Diary of a Madman”. It then reminds me vaguely of the Beatles “She’s So Heavy” in places, even the way the music just seems to cut out around the 3 minute mark. The songs progresses into a slightly new direction and becomes reminiscent of Slowdive‘s “Catch the Breeze” by the second half. The biggest drawback is that it really suffers from weak sounding vocals throughout. There is no power in the singing at all, and it all just sounds like he’s exhausted, is straining to stay in tune, or has a bad case of asthma and this was the most breath he could muster. Regardless of the vocals, my problem with “White Sands” is that, by the time it comes around in the album’s original running order, I’ve had enough. It feels like a bummer. I had to really sit with this song in order to “get it”. In fact, I used Spotify to listen to it a few times on repeat. I  needed to take it out of the context of the album in order to appreciate it. It was the same with “Impermenance”.

Not every album has to make you want to dance, and not every album needs to be a party, but Instead of leaving you on a high, Side D as a whole just feels melancholy, and puts a damper on the joy of sides A through C. It’s kind of like this review, right? It started out all positive and awesome but now you’re wondering if the album is any good because of my comments about the last two songs, hahah! Well, it is.

Ride are among my favourite bands in this genre and, despite my feelings towards Side D, and I’m really glad they came out with such a strong effort after all these years! I still rate the album very highly overall because not only did I enjoy revisiting it, I did enjoy those last two songs (but out of context) and besides, listening to it inspired me to write this and tell you about it. It really is an excellent album.

Released 21 years after Ride‘s previous album, it seems to have come out of nowhere. It certainly came as a surprise to me! Overall, it remains true to the sound that Ride made famous, but you can hear that they have matured and that their life experiences have changed the way they see the world. There is definitely something to offer here. It’s not just a cash grab. This is not a sad attempt to recapture the glory days. This album is a gift to fans and a welcoming cry to new admirers as well. It deserves to be shared and discovered!

There’s no rest-on-your-laurels retro sound here, but there is enough of a familiar feeling to it that it should appeal to older fans of the band (likely thanks to Alan Moulder‘s return to the Ride mixing board) , and there is a cool modern sound to it as well (probably influenced by electronic music impresario Erol Alkan‘s production), so neither should it alienate new listeners. The combination works.

There have been a lot of bands getting back together and releasing new material years (if not decades!) after their last album, and although some of these albums may be of interest to fans, and some may even be hits, a lot of these efforts just pass by unnoticed, like someone desperately trying to cling to former fame or cash in on a nostalgia tour. This album stands out from the crowd.

As a final note, I would like to add that not only did I thoroughly enjoy this album, I was inspired to purchase their follow up, 2019’s This is not a Safe Place, which I haven’t heard yet, but which got great reviews when it came out. I expect it will be spectacular. (Somehow I missed hearing about it when it came out, so I am playing catch-up!)

Dis you agree with me? What did you think of the album? (Was I really too hard on those last two tracks?) Drop a line in the comment section below! Remember to subscribe so that you don’t miss our next monthly (ish) post (We’ll never bother you more than once a month).

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