The iconic Ride, along with My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Swervedriver, were instrumental in the formation of the shoegaze sound in the early 90s. Their debut album Nowhere (1990), with its pensive melodies and whirring bursts of sounds, has been safely cemented as an absolute classic. But after disagreements in sound and the critical panning of Tarantula in 1996, the band broke up. It wouldn’t be for another 20 years until we would hear from them again. This Is Not A Safe Place is the second album of Ride’s second iteration. And while there is an update in their sound, it doesn’t feel as if the band has forgotten what made them so compelling in the first place. At the same time, they aren’t stubbornly leading into a stale exercise in nostalgia.
The self-referential opener “R.I.D.E.” is almost entirely instrumental with a few wordless hums interlaced in between the layers of distortion. It’s a heavier sound for Ride with clashing electronics in the vein of vintage industrial. Synth drones and pressurised feedback hums throughout. “Future Pop” on the other hand, is quite the change of pace, and the lack of cohesion is one obvious factor holding this album back from being truly great. The album’s second track is effervescent and buoyant. Taking cues from modern dream pop acts (Alvvays and Real Estate), Ride bring forth jangly, sprightly guitars with a noisier edge. The drum tone has a noticeably spacious tone with snares popping high in the mix.
“Repetition” sees the band taking a stab at electro-pop. Groove-oriented synth breakdowns give the track more of a dance edge. The guitars and drums are punchy, almost snapping at the listener. An echo effect runs heavily on the vocals. The whole thing is very new wave inspired.
“Kill Switch” is the album’s first true miss. It’s not melodically strong enough, nor is it noisy enough to really have anything interesting to put forth. Any chance for the track to shine is watered down for a false sense of balance. It feels lost as if there is a climax it wants to reach but can’t find. The bouncy drum intro also could easily be mistaken for Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl”. The album gets back on track with “Clouds of Saint Marie”, which features Ride as their most classic sounding. Its weary, lovesick vocals drift underneath gorgeously washed soundscapes. It is melodically solid, complemented by soaring harmonies. The band takes a darker tinted turn on “Eternal Recurrence”. With its sparse arrangements, the trickling guitar and muddy bass starkly stand out.
Arguably, the worst track on the album comes by the way of “15 Minutes”. The lyrics are painfully undercooked, awkwardly leaning in on jarring “na na na”s. The band tries their hand at the classic quiet-loud dynamic that has been a staple technique in alternative rock (much thanks to Doolittle (1989) by Pixies), but they execute it in the most awkward way possible. Instead of creating excitement and sucking the listener in, the sloshy transition instead pushes the listener completely out of the experience. This low point however, sits side-by-side one of the album’s clear highlights. Moody-post punk, much in the vein of Bauhaus, heavily inspires “Jump Jet”. Rich, densely packed textures never let up. The dynamics tastefully shift throughout, never becoming too predictable. This allows for the record’s most cathartic chorus.
“Dial Up” takes on a more delicately somber tone. With its bright guitar flourishes and downtrodden keys, it begins sounding reminiscent of Elliott Smith’s XO (1998) album. “End Game” is the most disparate cut here with muted vocals and an ominous bass intro. “Shadows Behind the Sun” is hazy and drifting, gradually building in intensity until its conclusion.
The album closer, “In This Room” is just over eight minutes. It’s dreary and ethereal, fractured and vulnerable. It’s fantastic for a good chunk of its run time. It just seems to float aimlessly after its halfway point; the second half of this track is excessive and doesn’t justify the length.
Besides a couple clear mishaps, there is very little on This Is Not A Safe Place that is downright bad or underwhelming. In fact, most of the album is rather pleasant and enjoyable. But on the flip side of that, there isn’t much here that is significantly brilliant or inspired. Ride’s sixth album suggests that they still can and should continue to release music. They haven’t quite found that greatness that they had at one point, but there are promising signs that they are extremely close.