The context: Shoegaze, like all narrow musical genres, was a pigeonhole that many of its creators scrambled to escape as soon as it was named. Ride was one of those rare bands that both defined and defied the tag. The young quartet—its members were barely out of their teens when their debut full-length, Nowhere, came out in 1990—instantly shot up the shoegaze hierarchy via a handful of early EPs that swirled, echoed, and sweetly pulverized. But unlike the genre's figurehead, My Bloody Valentine, Ride favored conventional pop songcraft over avant-ambient avalanches, even though both elements were in strong supply on Nowhere. The traditionalism eventually won out; by 1994's Carnival Of Light, Ride ditched the noise and went on a diet of Buffalo Springfield and Faces. Most fans couldn't stomach such a radical shift, and a subsequent lack of sales—plus some tried-and-true internal strife—led Ride to disintegrate in 1996. Singer-guitarist Andy Bell wound up joining Oasis in 1999, and drummer Laurence Colbert recently popped up in The Jesus And Mary Chain, but Nowhere is the monumental album they'll always be best loved for.
The greatness: As if attempting to pick up exactly where The Beatles' Revolver left off, Nowhere opens with "Seagull," a trippy epic that melds "Taxman"'s throbbing bassline with the psychedelic guitar of "Tomorrow Never Knows." But the precociousness doesn't end there: Colbert swipes John Bonham's stomp from Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" for "Dreams Burn Down," and baroque strings and dusky harmonica are woven into songs like "Vapour Trail" and "Here And Now." Ride was never afraid to flaunt its many influences, but besides nods to classic rock, hints of everything from The Stone Roses to Sonic Youth bleed through Nowhere's jangling, glacial pop. As pop goes, though, the album is abysmally morose: Even the band called it a work of teenage angst. Nowhere is almost overwhelmingly heavyhearted, gripped by a gravity that's at odds with the disc's ethereal swells and zephyrs. Just as the one-two punch of "Decay" and "Paralysed" threatens to irretrievably swamp it, though, Nowhere thrusts into glaring sunshine with "Vapour Trail" and "Taste," two bittersweet yet relatively upbeat gems that could pass as lost classics by The House Of Love. "Taste" is also Nowhere's most stunning display of harmony: The aching, entwined vocals of Bell and fellow singer-guitarist Mark Gardener build as much of a celestial euphony as all their amps, effects pedals, and Spacemen 3 crib notes combined.
Defining song: Shot through with arctic squalls and shivery static, "Dreams Burn Down" sums up all the longing, disorientation, and numb oblivion of Nowhere. The song jumps from chiming melancholy to nauseating dissonance with all the force of blood pounding against the inside of the skull—but there's more to it than power and beauty. Like morbid choirboys, Bell and Gardener intone, "I just want what I can't have / till my dreams burn down and choke me every time" just before each chorus melts into a rumble of alien thunder. It's a typically adolescent "boy-can't-get-girl" trope, but the sheer sonic scope of "Dreams" elevates it from merely miserable to something altogether metaphysical.