Album Review: Ride’s brilliant ‘Interplay’ reveals a band at the very height of their game.

Feature Photograph: Cal McIntyre

The Breakdown

'Interplay' is the sound of a band at their very creative best: this stands tall amongst Ride's output, symbolising growth and innovation while maintaining a loyal link to the past and an utter dedication to melody and atmosphere. Ride explores new sounds and instrumentation more than even before and reject stasis and atrophy in favour of experimentation and innovation. At the end of the day, this is perfect anthemic and melodic pop wrapped in a barbed-wire cloak.
PIAS/Wichita 9.5

Ride  are releasing their much anticipated album ‘Interplay’ this Friday after teasing us with three astounding singles in the lead up.

After a period in the wilderness following 1996’s ‘Tarantula’, ‘Weather Dairies’ in 2017 signaled a welcome return to the fray for the Oxford band and the output ever since has just been getting exponentially better.

Often cited as one of the lead bands behind the shoegaze label – a term that was initially derisory but has now been proudly adopted by all, the new iteration of Ride has expanded beyond easy labels into a world of thrilling, anthemic pop. ‘Interplay’, the new album out through Wichita and PIAS, has just driven up the bar, coming nearly five years after ‘This Is Not A Safe Place’.

Andy Bell says this about the album :

This album has taken a long time to make, and has seen the band go through a lot of ups and downs; maybe the most of any Ride album. But it has seen us come through the process as a band in a good place, feeling able to shake off the past, and ready to celebrate the combined musical talents that brought us together in the first place.

The result is one of their best albums ever: twelve consistently brilliant gems that sparkle with an incandescent light.

Opening track, ‘Peace Sign’ points the way with a more melodic and layered direction with its euphoric chorus and sparkling sounds. The layered vocals create a celestial attack, with the trademark twin guitar blasting an indelible wall of sound that billows like a mirage in the desert. It is trademark Ride but with a bit more of a new wave pop sensibility and an uplifting anthemic quality.

The lyrics are a paean to perseverance and resilience:

Shine, shining, the thought in your mind
As you’re racing away from the light
Tonight, the feeling inside
Is a tension that’s outside of time
As you climb, the face of the rock
Has a feeling that’s winding you tight
It’s alright, your instincts are always right

Of the new single, Bell says:

‘Peace Sign’ started life as a jam recorded at Marks’ OX4 studio, in early 2021. We called it ‘Berlin’ and initially it featured Loz on drums, Steve on bass, and myself on a prophet 5 synth. About six months later I got hold of the recording and wrestled it into song form. Lyrically I was inspired by a film called The Alpinist about the visionary free climber Marc-André Leclerc. Soon after I’d finished working on the song I remember I was raving to my bandmates about Leclerc at OX4, and a good memory of that time was us all watching that film at Mark’s studio.

It’s a fantastic opening to the new album and a sign the band’s creativity continues to blossom:

‘Last Frontier’ takes up the baton and sets a frenetic pace with all the thunder and blast of the band at their very best. And it is one of their very best.

A sweeping cinematic intro is driven by a surprising synth thrum that morphs into one of the most anthemic pop songs the band has ever produced. Think of something that takes its pop genes from bands like The Lightning Seeds, New Order or Pet Shop Boys with the addition of the uniquely Ride barbed wire spine. Pop melodies and spine tingling guitars combine to create one of their best singles ever. Bell says:

This was the runt of the litter of the very first jam session from Mark’s OX4 Studio and I didn’t even include it on my shortlist of the best tracks. It was our producer Richie Kennedy who saw the potential of the song, and we attacked this with a vengeance at Vada studio. A complete revamp of the backing track and arrangement was needed and we took it right back to basics, more towards a pounding Joy Division feel. For the topline, I tried improvising at the mic, singing it all different ways, and coming up with new parts on the spot. I felt really exposed but kind of said to myself, ‘you’re among friends, it’s good to push yourself to try new ways to write.’ It feels different to every vocal I’ve ever done. It’s still a new way of working for me but it’s something I want to continue trying as I think it makes for better vocal lines; a good mixture of written and improvised.

Hardly a runt now:

Third track ‘Light in a Quiet Room’ starts off quietly with an ethereal hum and dappling guitars with yearning vocals and layered sounds in the ether. It’s a haunting reflective dreamy track that slowly increases in intensity as the drums kick in over an ambulant bass. The production is immaculate: creating a complex layers that ebb and flow, dropping at one point to nothing more than a piano and vocals and an ominous drone before building up to a thrilling thundering finale that recalls Ride’s shoegaze past. It’s an eviscerating end to an incredible sonic journey that roams over the landscape in six minutes.

‘Monaco’ is another indication of Ride’s inherent pop sensibilities and a move to something more motorik and synth based. I’m sure there is an unconscious nod in the title to the band of the same time fronted by Peter Hook, because the style and approach of this new track draws on some of the New Order arrows in the quiver to affix to the bow.

Frontman Mark Gardener’s powerful lyrics are matched by an icy, throbbing synth rock intensity that reflects the urgency of the subject, as he explains:

The backing track came from the earlier Ox4 Sound sessions we did and we gave it a demo name of ‘Monaco’ as we were naming these jams and ideas we were pulling together as place names. One evening, during the recording sessions at Ox4 Sound, the guys had all left the building and I was there with just producer Richie Kennedy and an engineer. I had been writing some words about how I was feeling that everybody was being smashed in the current economic climate with the rise of energy bills and all else; to the point that it just seems now that we’re having to live to work instead of working to live.

The song is a reflection on this feeling of how we’re all being smashed to pieces and under pressure constantly financially. It’s a kind of call to arms against this whilst we still have strength to fight against it. ‘Monaco’ then stayed as the ironic title as the song is totally against the madness of the few who live in their artificial, detached rich bubbles in Monaco.

As ever, passionate and articulate, this is something of a statement – Ride are producing so far some of the best music of their career. And that’s a strong endorsement.

‘I Came to See the Wreck’ thunders in with guitar octaves in an anthemic tone and vocals filled with an enigmatic yearning. Ride paints a canvas filled with shimmering guitars and melancholy over slamming insistent drums: its a glorious vast cinematic soundscape. In contrast, ‘Stay Free’ returns to a more acoustic base – a slower ballad that is airy and open with a sparkling production.

Thumping drums herald another thundering track with layered vocals in ‘Last Night I Went Somewhere to Dream’, imbued with a psychedelic thrum and layered vocals that create a haunting ethereal tone that sparkles.

‘Sunrise Chaser’ opens up the sound – carried along on a bobbing bass and bubbling synths with the trademark Ride harmonies creating perfect pop, whereas following track ‘Midnight Raider’ ups the ante again with a wall of guitars and vocals over a motorik rhythm: expansive and enigmatic.

‘Portland Rocks’ does at it says on the label: a veritable blast of guitars and vocalising that harks back to ‘Nowhere’ and the single ‘Vapor Trail’ in its sonic assault that coasts across the skies with a brilliant sheen.

Seven minute long ‘Essaouira’ is a psychedelic shuffle that wanders over a dreamy sonic landscape with mysterious spoken words in the distance and vocalisations that sing in the ether, before the melody enters the fray. Synthetic burbles add to the layers: there is a hypnotic fugue that creates a dream like atmosphere. It’s an incredible chemical-induced journey with surreal imagery – I leave my body on distant shores/when you get blown up you get blown up big.

Final track ‘Yesterday is Just a Song’ explores the idea of growth and resilience – a common theme in this album – we don’t have to think about tomorrow. It is a fitting end to the album: seemingly a statement of the band’s on-going creativity and growth, fittingly emphasised by the synth thrum that runs through the song that pulse like blood through the veins.

‘Interplay’ is the sound of a band at their very creative best: this stands tall amongst Ride’s output, symbolising growth and innovation while maintaining a loyal link to the past and an utter dedication to melody and atmosphere. Ride explores new sounds and instrumentation more than even before and reject stasis and atrophy in favour of experimentation and innovation. At the end of the day, this is perfect anthemic and melodic pop wrapped in a barbed-wire cloak.

‘Interplay’ is out today (Friday, 29 March 2024) and you can download, stream and buy here.

Catch Ride on the road (including a special gig where they are playing early albums ‘Nowhere’ and ‘Going Blank Again’ in full at the Helsinki Festival). Tickets and details here.

Feature Photograph: Cal McIntyre

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