Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (2006)

In preparation for their new record in June, I felt it appropriate to look at Sonic Youth’s last offering- 2006’s Rather Ripped.

As soon as “Reena” opens this album, there’s something different. While I would never accuse Sonic Youth of using traditional tunings, you could almost swear that either Lee or Thurston is playing a guitar set to EADGBE. What’s more, it opens with a chorus- a melodic one at that! While Gordon isn’t strictly singing in tune, she almost is. There’s no true aggression here, it’s sung like Nico on the first Velvet Underground album. Yet, perplexingly, there are more alt-rock hooks in this song than the band has had on any album since Dirty, and I applaud them- it actually works.

The emotional core to songs like “Incinerate” and “Turquoise Boy” comes through virtually unfiltered- rather than attack their own melodies and tear the songs inside out, the band’s knack for unusual production values is used to support some uncharacteristically honest lyrics. The perfect example of this is the closer “Or”- warm, overexposed bass and low-cut pounding drums provide the soft backdrop for Thurston’s weary, itinerate lyrics; punctuated by very simple strumming and picking. It all comes together to create the sound of 3AM cigarette-warm beer light.

Which isn’t to say they don’t rock out here at all, but when they do- as on “Rats” and “Sleeping Around”- they groove seductively. If this album is laidback, it’s far from lazy- it’s almost as detailed as career-best Daydream Nation- it’s just here they let things breathe. Noise is used sparingly, yet more effectively than it was in the 90s.

This is a mature (but by no means adult) record. Sonic Youth are, almost impossibly, still an energetic and essential force in rock. Here’s hoping The Eternal is even half as good as this.

(75 - SM)
Combined Rating = 81.5

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