Sonic Youth- The Eternal (2009)

Sonic Youth are always a tough band to review. They are one of the most consistent and inventive forces in rock music- this much we know. While their last album, Rather Ripped, was a goldmine of understated jangle-pop, bluesy rock and claustrophobic lethargy, there is always that creeping, nagging feeling (as there is with any Sonic Youth album) that it pales next to 1989’s masterpiece, Daydream Nation.

The group has evolved immeasurably since Daydream Nation, learning and unlearning their craft, rebuilding from the ground up their own art-damaged songforms and put together some truly brilliant records, but Daydream still manages to tower over all of them. The Eternal is not Daydream Nation.

The Eternal is out for blood. The Sister-esque ferocity that drives Sacred Trickster and Anti-Orgasm draws battlelines at the record’s opening. Kim Gordon’s vocals have matured infinitely since Dirty, maintaining that record’s aggression but with a tunefulness learned and perfected on Sonic Nurse and Rather Ripped. The playful husband-wife duet on Anti-Orgasm is powerfully theatrical, equal parts gender war and united political front (it makes you wonder whether Kim and Thurston actually finish eachother’s sentences in ordinary conversation).

The Eternal rocks hard and steady. It is a consistent, surprising, twisting and moving force of nature. More so than any of their works since 1994’s due-for-a-critical-reassessment-any-day-now Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, it is considered and deliberate. This approach is a double-edged sword- the widescreen instant-classic Antenna is a songwriting peak for the band, whereas a more flexible approach would have benefited the plodding and uncharismatic Leaky Lifeboat.

As on every album, Lee Ranaldo’s tracks will make you crumble. Lyrically and musically, Walking Blue and What We Now are minor masterpieces- unlike previous efforts, however, it seems as if the noise rebel is more willing to play ball and his songs fit in quite smoothly with the rest of the band’s groove. A groove enhanced by the addition of ex-pavement Bassist Mark Ibold to the line up- every bassline on on this album is a 1AM, alcohol-soaked punch in the gut.

The Eternal is not Daydream Nation. The Eternal is deep-fried space-gold in its own right.



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