The Donkeys: Ride the Black Wave


The Donkeys: Ride the Black Wave — It’s been quite a while since I’ve liked an album like this — acoustic beach balladry, wanderlust, Americana worship. I usually steer completely clear because it’s so easy to reek of ham while doing it, which is one reason I prefer noise — ideas like genuine emotion and effort kinda melt away in the visceral impact. Hence, I was mistrustful at first, like a battlefield survivor who wanders into a dead calm field. But lo and behold, not only do The Donkeys construct an engaging, mid-tempo romp about the country and beyond, Ride the Black Wave doesn’t really move like the acoustic-heavy road tripper’s album it appears to be.

About half of the album is made up of brisk tracks that are a mixture of interlude and standalone instrumental numbers, each one seemingly with a different romantic locale in mind: the midwest heartland of ‘I Heart Alabama’, the Hawaiian sailors’ croon of ‘Brown Eyed Lady’, even the Ganges riverside in ‘Imperial Beach’, all sitars, twang and temple-space reverb. Not to say these are filler — they’ve got way too much scintillating detail for that. ‘Blues in the Afternoon’, for example, just floats off the speaker and settles like a tiny fog-bank in the room, all hushed choral vocals on a levitating bed of flute and plucky strings, and ‘The Manx’ is a psychedelic desert drive, under expansive violet mountains like undulating scar tissue.

Consequently, there’s an impressive breadth of texture and mood here, and because of these little vignette tracks, it’s hard not to get into the traveling mood listening to Ride the Black Wave, as you’re in a different locale about every two minutes. It’s the ceaseless rangings of a hungry mind, but not one without some deeper resolutions. The longer tracks, when they appear, are smashing. The sun-blurred melodies of opener ‘Sunny Daze’ presents the album’s main tension: “Should I stay in California?” “Sunny days / stuck in the sunny daze, yeah yeah”. Does he want to leave the comfort and sun, knowing there’s more to be seen in the world, hence the vivid punk-length numbers that feel like idealizations of exotic travels? The undisputed centerpiece of the record has to be ‘Scissor Me Cigs’, which drifts along propelled by a ‘Where is My Mind’-like riff and light dappling percussion, wrapped in a slight sense of oppression and weight. By the time guest vocalist Adrienne Verhoeven of Extra Classic appears on ‘Bahamas’, a piano-driven, Beach Boys-esque track with the gospel pleas of, “walk across the sand with me, and wait with me”, we’re about ready to head homeward and collapse in bed.

Overall, it’s quite a surprising album: short enough to be digested in one long drive, packed with a vault-full of ideas and varied sounds and, most impressively, you finish the record slightly tired, harrowed, and your feet are inexplicably sore…8.3/10


‘Scissor Me Cigs’

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