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Lee Ranaldo & The Dust - Last Day on Earth

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Artist: Lee Ranaldo & The Dust

Album: Last Day on Earth

Label: Matador

Review date: Oct. 7, 2013

Lee Ranaldo & The Dust - “Lecce, Leaving”

Lee Ranaldo was always the “Mr. Inside” of Sonic Youth, as much an architect of the band’s blinding, sheets of feedback guitar sound as Thurston Moore, as much a visual arts synthesiac as Kim Gordon, as offhandedly knowledgeable about pop and experimental music as either of them, but not as quick to the spotlight. Here in his second album with the Dust – that’s fellow SY vet Steve Shelley, Alan Licht and, this time, Tim Lüntzel on bass – Ranaldo makes a quiet claim on that band’s legacy. He is comfortable enough with the sounds and effects we associate with Sonic Youth to replicate them without the intervening distance of reference, but he is also ready to push these sounds into other more conventionally tuneful byways. Who knew that anyone could sound so much like Sonic Youth, and also so much like R.E.M., in the same song? Who would have guessed that it would work as well as it does in “Lecce, Leaving” where a college rock jangle twines around expansive blasts of feedback, where anthemic choruses give way to amp-torturing frenzies?

Ranaldo dabbles in folk-ish pop in pretty, abbreviated outings like the title track, and in the brief 1960s harpsichord levities of “Late Descent No. 2.” Still, he’s best on this album when he stretches out, elongating and inverting whatever melodic certainties he seems at first to pose. “The Rising Tide,” starts in Sonic Nurse-style lyricism, bead curtains of translucent guitar parting to reveal the shape of verse and chorus. Long, noodle-y intervals separate bouts of singing, in which the four players pause between notes, as if to admire the tone. It’s a song you could sing yourself, during the minute or two of time (out of nine) that Ranaldo is actually singing, but it opens up at the end into a full-bore onslaught of textural improvisation.

The best cut, though, comes at the end in “Blackt Out,” a twelve-minute sprawl of guitar and drums that makes, really, no concessions at all to pop song structure. It’s a shaggy, meandering beast of a track, lightly touched by melody, but mostly concerned with tone and mood. All four instrumental parts take on a particular dusky glow in this track, the two guitars nattering and worrying at their connected ideas, the tom-tom beat full of resonance and drama, the bass slipping in and out of the mix with big fat blobs and ribbons of sound.

Last Day on Earth drifts further into folk and jangle than Ranaldo’s last album Between the Time and Tides did, and certainly further than Sonic Youth ever did though they were certainly moving in that direction. It’s interesting, too, how sonic muck seems to emerge out of well-defined structures, rather than the inverse. I was thinking, as I listened, how Califone births songs out of hum and drone and electronic chaos. Lee Ranaldo works in the other direction, setting up the songs and letting them dissolve into entropy.

By Jennifer Kelly

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