Monday, 8 June 2009



It is a great world and a great time to be alive when I find myself still becoming very excited about a brand Sonic Youth record. Now free of the corporate handcuffs offered up by DGC and then Universal this is back to being indie on an indie (if that ever mattered).

This is their sixteenth studio album. Could you name all sixteen of those? I have to admit I couldn’t and such is the rub with Sonic Youth: they are just as capable of writing something indulgent and forgettable as they are living up to their grand legacy and admired tradition.

Now on Matador its now really clear if they have made the record they’ve been wanting to make or the record that they think their audience wants. Ordinarily you certainly would expect the former from Sonic Youth but today they sound cohesive and thankfully very much the latter. Maybe even with the return of such noisemongers as My Bloody Valentine they now feel something to prove again in the noise stakes.

The Eternal is a pretty impressive piece of work. That’s not to say their last few records haven’t been good, it’s just that they haven’t been mind-blowing. It opens well, impressively with “Sacred Trickster” which is a barely two minute rocket of an opener that offers much in the way of promise as distortion, hooks and an angry Kim vocal are all present.

From here the wreckage of the record truly begins as “Anti Orgasm” thunders out as perhaps the first truly incendiary song they have produced in recent years that dare I say veers towards Dirty territory. As a sly Bowie drops in a descending guitar line serves as some kind of countdown to a sonic explosion prior to entering into a blood drenched tirade before meandering into a heart stopping mechanically military pause. Eventually the song floats off into the abyss as it outstays its welcome by two minutes. Such is the Sonic Youth way of doing things.

Obviously the perfect start proves too much to maintain (and too good to last) as the twiddly “Leaky Lifeboat” pays tribute to failed Beat writer Gregory Corso much in the same way the man himself etched his career. Its pretty fitting.

Today I am incredibly chuffed to report that the noodling of “What We Know” served to royally upset a tetchy lady on the tube. This is where Sonic Youth remain essential. Obviously long term fans will have heard all this before but to many this is still the kind of music that just sounds indecipherable and indescribable, something that hurts their ears and hurts their feelings and often this is a good way of listening to the band, to take a step back and pretend this sound is new. Indeed you won’t be hearing it anywhere easy, on any of the radio or TV stations handed to you on a plate in exchange for you handing them your personality and your arse. “What We Know” indeed offers up something great, a wonderfully heavy track that features some true power chords in amongst the squiggles. “What We Know” seems a song steeped in experience and lines such as “it’s been quite a ride” suggests the band are somewhat relieved to still be in the position that they are.

The almost pop sensibilities continue on the almost Roxy Music sounding “Poison Arrow” while “Malibu Gas Station” almost sounds like an update of “The Sprawl”.

At times there is a very optimistic sound to areas of this record and when Thurston opens with “sweet temptation came today” on “No Way” suddenly the Youth part of the band’s name seems gestured.

Unsurprisingly Lee chips in with a standout track which on this record takes the form of “Walkin Blue” which builds to a tremendous climax as he strides in confident and measured style until wigging out at the essential moment as he insists that everything is “clear”. It’s obvious!

The record ends on the almost ten minute “Massage The History” which is as ugly as the length and title would suggest, a repetitive track that doesn’t really go anywhere other than to test the patience of the listener. Thank god they lumped it as the ending.

With the dust settled ultimately you have to appreciate the ability that Sonic Youth possess to still sound so strange and inventive, especially when it comes to the squares that don’t want to be challenged in this modern. Go to sleep America. I don’t think the band are ever going to produce an out and out amazing album ever again but there will always be great tracks and super annoyances held on each.

This is more than you know.

Thesaurus moment: discharge.

Sonic Youth

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