How Ride's Nowhere Opened My Ears to the Swirling Magic of Shoegaze

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How Ride's <i>Nowhere</i> Opened My Ears to the Swirling Magic of Shoegaze

On this day in 1990, Oxford, England shoegazers Ride unleashed their debut album, Nowhere, at the height of shoegaze, and it still stands up as one of the genre’s defining works.

Though I wasn’t born at the time of the album’s release, I discovered Nowhere in my late teens and became engrossed in a sound that I’d never heard before. The word “shoegaze” meant nothing to me until recently, but it’s since become one of my favorite musical styles.

Before I fell in love with the ear-splitting beauty of My Bloody Valentine, the sugary noise-pop of The Jesus and Mary Chain or the washed-out soundscapes of Slowdive, I was introduced to shoegaze through Ride’s Nowhere.

The first Ride song I ever heard was “Vapour Trail,” and though this string-filled ballad wasn’t quite full-on shoegaze like the remainder of the record, its swirling, transcendent energy and chiming 12-string guitars left me wanting more. I previously knew the band’s co-lead singer and guitarist Andy Bell as the bassist in Oasis, but after I heard him sing on “Vapour Trail” with soft-hearted conviction, I only knew him as one of the members of my new favorite band—Ride.

As someone who grew up on classic rock and modern alt-rock, shoegaze was practically from another galaxy. As soon as I heard the opening track, “Seagull,” I was met by a guitar assault, an unrelenting drone-like groove, breakneck drums and the harmonized co-lead vocals of Mark Gardener and Bell. Sure, I’d heard some psychedelic music before, but this LP made me completely rethink the capabilities of musical transcendence.

I’d been exposed to uplifting romanticism and isolating sadness colliding in the same song before with artists like The Smiths and The Cure, but never with such extreme poles as Ride. On the eight tracks of Nowhere, Ride fired a distorted wash of piercing guitars, Loz Colbert’s vigorous percussion, bassist Steve Queralt’s clamoring melodies and Gardener and Bell’s angelic vocal harmonies. Songs shift from the soft wisp of “Dreams Burn Down” and “Vapour Trail” to the chugging chaos of “Decay” and “Kaleidoscope,” but more often than not, they incorporate both delicate allure and fierce annihilation within the same song.

Ride are a musical contradiction, and the best shoegaze music excels at contradiction. One of the things that kept pulling me back to Ride’s Nowhere and the rest of their discography—and separated them from other shoegaze bands I love—was their refusal to obscure their harmonious vocals. If you were to transcribe the lyrics of bands like Cocteau Twins or My Bloody Valentine, you’d probably get a different set of words with each attempt due to their washed out sound mix. But with Ride, they preserved their distorted onslaught of instrumentals while allowing their shimmery pop vocals a la The Byrds or Teenage Fanclub to remain fully audible. Songs like “Seagull” and “Polar Bear” display the perfect fusion of Gardener and Bell’s vocals with their discernible Oxford tongue and even those turned off by their wall of sound would admit to being charmed by their vocal match made in heaven.

I’ve since come to know and love the overwhelming disarray of My Bloody Valentine, the hypnotic spirituality of early Verve, the sprightly, quiet firestorm of Lush and the intricate shoegaze-pop of DIIV, but it all began with Ride’s Nowhere. I’m not sure I would be able to come to grips with the harsh underbelly of bands like those along with the ambient work of Grouper or the atmospheric dream-pop of Galaxie 500 if it weren’t for my jump into the noisy, divine abyss of shoegaze via Ride’s Nowhere. I view Ride and Nowhere as the essential connecting tissue between the jangle pop of The Stone Roses, the dream-pop of The Ocean Blue, the discordant haze of My Bloody Valentine and the machine-like krautrock of Toy. I can only speak hypothetically, but without discovering Ride’s Nowhere, countless other bands I now enjoy might have felt like a bridge too far.