5 Apr 2015

Robin Guthrie & Mark Gardener / Universal Road (album review)

A collaboration between Robin Guthrie, the member responsible for the ethereal sounds and guitars-that-don't-sound-like-guitars in the Cocteau Twins, and Mark Gardener, Ride frontman? It's a match made in heaven, it's a sonic smorgasbord, it's a shoegaze wet dream. Following their one-off 2012 collab The Places We Go, the duo have put out a whole album of the luscious dream-pop that made the 2012 effort so good, and it goes by the name of Universal Road.

But aside from the big name collaborators, what qualities does Universal Road hold? Because obviously, being the brainchild of the men who have between them released Nowhere, Treasure and Heaven or Las Vegas, and practically invented the shoegaze sound, this record has a hell of a lot to live up to. And potentially, this record could, by the very nature of it being a big name collab, be a tired dredging up of the past and a celebration of past glories.

However, 30 seconds into the opening (and title) track, and you know that this is seriously not the case; the artistic marriages of these two brilliant musicians is just as heavenly as you'd think. It's all very familiar; dreamy ethereal textures et al, but it's in a format you've never fully witnessed by these two artists. These are perfect dream-pop songs, in that they're perfect pop songs that fall into the dream-pop genre - all of this complies with Gardener's own philosophy, that you  need a great pop song before you max it out to create whatever else it is you wanna achieve.

Bright songs that bring huge amounts of euphoria to the record are probably what make the record what it is; Yesterday's News shimmers it's way through, with some of the two men's most beautiful sounds to boot, and the woozy Cry For Survival is a perfect example of the misty guitar tones that Guthrie's credited with popularising.

At first, maybe Mark Gardener's voice sounds a bit odd to the Ride fanatic; they're very different to those on any of the band's records. But when you think about it, because he's never recorded anything much along these lines; the vocals were always a low priority thing for Ride, underneath the noisy guitars, so the youthful, luscious tones that he showcases here are probably the natural progression. On Sometime they sound especially great, and also prove that songs called Sometime or Sometimes literally cannot be short of great (think MBV, Beach Fossils, DIIV, The Carpenters, Spacemen 3, Psychedelic Furs).

Despite sounding very much like a modern, forward-thinking record, Universal Road captures a euphoria, and a euphoria with a very nineties feel at that. Dice, with it's oscillating keys and soothing harmonies, sounds like it was ripped straight from the Perks Of Being A Wallflower soundtrack (which, what you think of the film, is a hell of a compliment - look), and Blind captures a forlorn, rapt but still dreamlike magic that Slowdive capture on So Tired or Galaxie 500 do on Strange.

Whilst, yes, this record won't reach the acclaim, or be regarded as 'great' and 'seminal' in 25 years time like their other work, but Universal Road is a gorgeous record that shows that the pair haven't lost a smidgen of the talent that saw them plastered over the front pages of the NME and Melody Maker during what I'd say was the golden age for British indie bands. It's a sort of singer-songwriter record drenched in beautiful textures and ethereal sounds that take you away, and it's one it's easy to listen to over and over again. And you could say, it's just as well that Gardener's still got it, because today is the day of the Ride Resurrection.