(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

CD review - Sonic Youth, The Eternal

Sonic Youth has always had their influences: Velvet Underground, Robert Fripp, and Patti Smith are a few. But they've always taken these sounds and transposed them into an edgier thrash that forms the band's basic sound. On The Eternal, they raise these idols and also a nod to Pink Floyd and Wilco's noisier sound. Typical of their albums, the full effect rolls between psychedelic thrash and dark punk drive. Fundamental to their sound is the tight meshing of the guitars into satisfying noise. The two or three guitars each contribute a fraction of differing beats, phrasing, and tones. And it all comes together into a complex, cathartic, insistent drive. This transcends all of the technique used to produce it (prepared instruments, odd contrasting tunings, etc).

The vocals add the right level of distance and angst, with Kim Gordon sounding like Patti Smith and Debora Iyall (Romeo Void) and Thurston Moore reaching for Lou Reed and Robyn Hitchcock. Some of the lead up hype talked about black metal, but I just hear their typical progressive punk art-noise. The disc is full of great tracks, but a couple are amazing.

Anti-Orgasm starts with a grungy jam, but throws in some dive bombing guitar noise. The sloganeering vocals are not that interesting, but the intense head trip guitars build the song into a frenzy and then into aftermath, where is settles into fragments anchored by the bass. At this point, Sonic Youth is playing a kind of Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun (Pink Floyd) jam with echoed noise swelling behind it. This moodiness balances the over the top noise of the frenzy section. This is some wonderful head candy.

Antenna starts with an echo box feedback artifact that simulates radio interference. This sets the mood. This song has a definite Wilco sound, but the chorus lifts directly from King Crimson's Court of the Crimson King. This shifts into more of a free jam structured noise. Once again, the sound is trippy with one guitar contributing noise, another plays some simple arpeggios, and the third plays a moody lead that is eventually heavily abused.

The disc closes out with the epic Massage the History. At almost 10 minutes long, it goes through a number of sections. The intro is a sort of folk rock jam with David Gilmour slide work. Kim Gordon's distant vocals come in a breathy voice that slides into a forced falsetto to add a kind of vulnerability. Once the singing starts, things build into more of a progressive rock sound. The song evolves through several sections before eventually losing energy and recapping to the intro piece and some more vocal angst. This is the perfect closer for the album. Some may think that it drags things out or loses energy, but it complemented the shift of moods that The Eternal runs through.

There are plenty of other good songs, from the Robert Fripp infused Malibu Gas Station to Poison Arrow's Velvet Underground riffs. All told, this is a single malt scotch kind of disc: smoky, a little harsh to the beginner, but rewarding to those who make the effort.

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