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Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped

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Artist: Sonic Youth

Album: Rather Ripped

Label: Geffen

Review date: Jun. 19, 2006

There are now two different groups called Sonic Youth. There’s the noisy Sonic Youth of the SYR releases, the one that’s a part of Unca Thurston’s campaign to expose as many people to as many touchy minimalist geniuses and limited-edition clamor-fests as possible, the one that props up the pretensions of Moore’s and Lee Renaldo’s arty side-efforts. That one’s more of a “collective.”

Rather Ripped has nearly zip to do with that Sonic Youth. It’s a product of the other Sonic Youth, the “band,” the one that long ago grafted dizzying guitar abuse and poignant negative-space nihilism onto shifty Can-style backbeats, then stuck with that while countless underlings came and went. This is the Sonic Youth that appeared on Daydream Nation, embraced its artistic prime on Washing Machine (awaiting a “deluxe” reissue) and A Thousand Leaves (uneven yet wildly underappreciated), and has since shown little urge to remain stylistically germane. Being selectively out of touch can be a good thing. At this rate, the Youth might outlast the Stones; while the Stones lost all their credibility as they fell for every bullshit trend to come down the pike, this elegant, time-tested, brand-name Sonic Youth has retained its.

Every few years, this Sonic Youth puts out a new album. These albums generally appear near summer’s commencement. Some have harbored jarring, experimental flourishes. This one, not so much. Although not the less-than-inspired retread that was Sonic Nurse, it’s a fitting overview of everything that’s always worked for Sonic Youth in the past (a description that also fits the long track “Pink Steam” by its lone). It’s, in a word, firm. The hooks are tight. The melodies are just as “compelling” to the heart as all that SYR jibber-jazz is to the heads of those who appreciate it. By splitting in two, Sonic Youth wages its noise evangelism on two separate fronts. For demanding rock buffs that never took Sonic Youth too seriously (because it’s a bad idea to take music too seriously, or maybe for other reasons), this is its most consistent collection of dark, cool summer jams, its most enjoyably populist bid for the soothing powers of dissonance. Since Murray Street. At least. Maybe ever.

To get through the summer, one must stay cool. Sonic Youth has stayed cool for a long time, at least in the emotional sense. Its slack detachment has both shaped the ‘tude of most latter-day DIY rock and invited accusations of phoned-in formalism, but there’s more to it than that… especially on Rather Ripped, with its clattering digressions so few and its emotional stakes so high. The cooler you stay, the more likely your free-floating anxiety is to slip out of its own accord, in its own way. On all of Sonic Youth’s best pop material (particularly Renaldo’s), the anxiety emerges in a matter that’s purely unforced, pure Sonic Youth, often imitated, never duplicated. It brings with it beauty that’s seemingly uninvited.

“Jams Run Free” (vocals: Kim), “Reena” (vocals: Kim) and “Rats” (vocals: Lee) are as catchy as “Kool Thing” with a side of “Sugar Kane.” (Particularly on “Jams,” the vocals are appropriately, unexpectedly sublime.) “What a Waste” re-affirms that Kim Gordon, as a lyricist, maintains either an obtuse contempt for her contemporaries or a tight grip on the grudges of adolescence. “Or” and “Do You Believe In the Rapture?” remind us that Thurston Moore has twin knacks for (a) clang, drone and atmosphere both creepy and addictive and (b) a trademark lyrical shrug that’s righteously lazy, always in route to brilliance.

Rather Ripped is inviting. It invites you in. We Sonic Youth fans may not, as a group, be getting any younger, but we’ve got the whole summer. There’s no reason not to stretch out and stay awhile.

Jim O’Rourke is gone.

By Emerson Dameron

Other Reviews of Sonic Youth

Murray Street

Sonic Nurse

Goo [Deluxe Edition]

Daydream Nation (Deluxe Edition)

The Eternal

Simon Werner a Disparu OST

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View all articles by Emerson Dameron

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