21 Nov ‘90s Alt. Rock Countdown: Nowhere
Key Tracks: Seagull, Dreams Burn Down, Vapour Trail
When Kevin Shields and his seminal group My Bloody Valentine released Isn’t Anything in 1988, it triggered something of a musical explosion. Inspired by the band’s distortion-heavy wall of sound, a steady stream of imitators rapidly transformed MBV’s novel approach to guitar playing into a fully-fledged movement. At the forefront of this tide emerged Ride, whose debut album Nowhere stands as an early masterpiece of the Shoegaze genre.
While sonic innovators MBV moulded their songs from an amalgamation all-encompassing sound, Ride’s creatives-in-chief Andy Bell and Mark Gardener favoured the opposite approach. Principally musicians as opposed to technicians, the pair’s songs are strongly melody-driven. As such, Ride’s brand of Shoegaze emanated from the submerging toned-down vocals within swirls of noisy distortion.
Based on this blueprint, Nowhere evolved into a succession of tracks exploring different facets of an underlying surrealist mood. Showcasing a diverse range of distortion-laden sounds, the album retains an aura of cohesiveness; a thematic succession of opaque messages conveying feelings of nostalgia and decline. It is an atmosphere which in no small part derives from the edgy interplay of Bell’s and Gardener’s guitars. While one instrument fulfils the role of a ripple-maker, dispersing wave after wave of sound, a second guitar instigates the translucent melody of each tune, often exploding into a crescendo.
This approach is typified by one of the key tracks of the album, Dreams Burn Down. Featuring a fuzzy and layered backdrop of sound typical of the Shoegaze genre, the song is most recognisable for when the glimmering melody of the lead guitar is suddenly swallowed by a storm of resonating waves at the hook. Endowed with a tenderer vocal by Gardener than elsewhere on the album, the track details an emotional turmoil; recognising that a romantic ambition amounts to little more than the fantastical.
Another key tune is the opening track of the album, Seagull. Beginning with the jingling of the tambourine and the rhythmic hum of a base, these sounds are soon washed away by an unstoppable haze of guitar-induced noise. This elaborate blend of distortion is complimented by the inversely despondent vocals of the track, as the music steadily rises in its intensity before eventually plateauing into a sonic climax. The lyrics, meanwhile, are sophisticated; a nod at Richard Bach’s novella Jonathan Livingston Seagull – the story of a young gull who tests the limits of flying.
The final track of the album, Vapour Trails, brings the record to a magnificent close. Drawing on a more accessible Pop melody, the track infuses a set of swirling guitars with vibrant drumming and orchestral influences. An apparent ode to youth amid the passing of time, the song is composed of two verses and two choruses which then give way to gradual two minute instrumental outro, with finally just a violin and cello closing out the record’s final moments. It is a track that testifies as the album’s crowning glory – where few ever get anywhere close to Nowhere.