There was a time when I would buy Sonic Youth albums without even hearing a note. For me, they were a band that deserved this kind of positive reinforcement, an epitome of how bands with major label deals should act, progress, and influence.
A pair of albums—A Thousand Leaves and NYC Ghosts & Flowers—abruptly ended that blind adulation. It seemed that one of my favorite bands had simply run its course and run out of ideas in the process. They had become pretentious and boring, oblivious to the fact that rock music should contain a bit of humor, or at least a wink towards it. Sonic Youth appeared to have grown up, no longer deserving their ageless band name.
Around this time I purchased Murray Street only out of Trade Center guilt, and I skipped Sonic Nurse altogether.
I got a chance to see them in Ohio during the Rather Ripped tour—twenty years after I’d first seen them in a small club in Iowa supporting Sister—and was pleasantly surprised. Lee assaulted his guitar, Thurston dry humped his amp stack, and Kim jumped around like she was honestly overtaken by the amplified onslaught. And Steve Shelly? As usual, he was his awesome, dependable self, keeping all of the chaos neatly contained in measured rhythms.
The album they were promoting, Rather Ripped, was a high energy affair, complete with efficient song structures and what appeared to be an attempt to win back fans that had fallen by the wayside, like me.
Sonic Youth’s latest, The Eternal, is curiously being promoted as the band’s first independent release in years (like that accounts for anything in this day and age and, to be honest, I never really considered Matador to be an “indie” label to begin with) when it should be promoted as their best work since Washing Machine.
They’re continuing with Ripped‘s fast-tempo tendencies and they’re expertly tiptoeing between streamlined guitar rock and their groundbreaking experimentation. It’s an album that manages to straddle a variety of different elements from their past while sounding amazingly fresh. An impressive feat for a band that’s approaching their thirtieth anniversary.
The obvious attraction is the guitar interplay between Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. They’ve proven to be ample warriors within the alterna-tuning freakouts and have even poked around some areas that could be fodder for jam-band fans. But The Eternal finds the pair consolidating their interplay into short, sweet bursts. Their performances are deceiving—one has to listen closely for their complexity—but when they do go off on extended tangents (“Anti-Orgasm,” the wonderful “Antenna,” and the closer “Massage The History”) it makes the impact that much stronger. The two are so good that they even make a mundane Kim Gordon track, “Malibu Gas Station,” into a track that you don’t dare skip.
Because many of the complexities are brief, efficient, and expertly positioned, you can expect The Eternal to grow a bit after a few listens. Trust me, this review looked a bit different after the first spin. But now after double-digit listens, it’s apparent that I’m enjoying a new Sonic Youth album more than I have in years. More importantly, The Eternal has me looking forward to the next few Sonic Youth albums before they’ve even been contemplated.
Seems like old times.