erasing clouds

Sonic Youth, Murray Street

reviewed by Dave Heaton

Goodbye 20th Century, the 1999 release where Sonic Youth covered modern classical and experimental composers, should have made it crystal-clear to anyone who hadn't been paying attention that the band is just as interested in the avant garde as they are in rock. They've always been interested in the unconventional and outsider side of art (and life), and have spent a career finding ways to dive into that area within the genre of rock.

Their latest album Murray Street is perhaps the most compact distillation of that dynamic yet, an explosive collection that is both experimental and rock. The unassuming way in which the album starts help give it even more power, as they begin with two examples of what is fairly straightforward rock-pop songwwriting by their terms, songs that were written by Thurston Moore alone on guitar and then filled out by the band…and sound like it. While both include plenty of vibrancy, they only hint at the maelstrom of "Rain on Tin," where three guitars* beautifully entwine and reach for new heights, or "Karen Revisited," where Lee Ranaldo gives one of his most impassioned, even angry, vocal performances ever, over an alluring backdrop of melody and noise.

Those lead to the searing "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style," which starts slow before bursting with energy, thanks in part to the free-jazz sax screams of guests Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich. And then there's "Plastic Sun," a spunky Kim Gordon-sung phillipic against plastic people, and the gorgeously fuzzy, shimmering closer "Sympathy for the Strawberry," sung by Gordon in nearly a whisper. All add up to a hell of a new-rock blowout. Rock isn't dead, it just needs new energies; Murray Street provides plenty of those, with sounds that take your breath away.

*now that Jim O' Rourke has joined as the fifth member and new bassist, Kim Gordon has switched mostly to guitar, joining Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo

{Geffen Records;}

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