News of the Thurston Moore Kim Gordon split last year fractured the hope and stability of middle aged ex grungers everywhere. Whilst grave fears were (and still are) held for the future of Sonic Youth, few have expressed concern about the remaining members of the band.
Over the years guitarist Lee Ranaldo would periodically issue strange experimental solo albums, saving his more conventional pop and rock song writing for Sonic Youth. Songs like Eric’s Trip, Skip Tracer, and Karen Koltrane offered greater nuance to the Youth’s. Perhaps more low key than Moore; his songs equally married intrigue, intelligence and introspection.
The question with his debut ‘song’ based album is how he will cope without the buffer, finally unleashed from the shadow of indie rock’s power couple. To begin with he’s backed by New York alumni, with Youth band mate Steve Shelley on drums, fellow experimental guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco), guitarist collaborator Alan Licht (Text of Light), keyboardist John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood), and cameos from ex (original) Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert and weirdo musician and ex Sonic Youth bass player Jim O’Rourke.
Yet the results are surprisingly tame and very musical, sounding more like REM, the Posies or even a less caustic version of Jim O’Rourke’s solo albums for Drag City than the evil squalling Sonic Youth. It’s a pop album, with moments of lilting country folk. If you know Ranaldo’s Sonic Youth work there wont be many surprises here, aside from the lack of risk. In place of experimentation is an unabashed love of guitar based melodic pop and it’s surprisingly catchy. It’s definitely not the next Sonic Youth album, and if you can remove that from your expectations it will help. That said a few moments of Thurston or perhaps Nels dissonance would’ve provided the album a little more weight.
Bob Baker Fish