Saturday, June 10, 2006

All hail Sonic Youth!

Like oil and water or vampires and sunlight, pop and art just don't get along.

Especially now that pop culture is all about Lindsay Lohans, Brangelinas, reality TV and indie crossovers (i.e: Blink 182 & The Offspring = Angels & Airwaves); the art-rock sounds of bands like Tortoise and American Analog Set might as well be from another planet.

Most musicians born on one world only journey to the other as a career move. Huge, mainstream rockers like U2 get experimental after successes like 'The Joshua Tree', and underground veterans like the Butthole Surfers kidnap pop styles to try to freak out the Top 40. But some of the most interesting music being made today comes from bands who ignore the distance between the two, stretching out pop melodies until they become ambient music. And sometimes aptly called noise-pop.

On 'Rather Ripped', Sonic Youth, minus Jim O'Rourke, adventures enough to destroy rock's conventions, arrogant enough to ask if anyone is still paying attention, and brilliant enough to know the answer is yes. For a while, the band played along with alternative rock bands they've influenced; toured extensively within America and hung out in Brazil with The Flaming Lips and The Stooges. Now they're back where they began - wailing away like a band that answered the door when the mainstream knocked, but then went to banging out a racket in their garage. 'Rather Ripped' has an added 'oomph' to sounds surprisingly accessible than its predecessors.

The album is a masterpiece of "crowd-pleasing rockin' beats" as it kicks off with Kim Gordon reminding the audience, "You keep me coming home again" on the track 'Reena'. Like drum 'n' bass artists obssessed with choppin' up and realigning the rhythms of dance music, Sonic Youth tweak the tone and colour of rock. Their verses almost never lead to choruses, their jingles get tangled (evident whenever Moore sings, he's ubercool like that) and their bridges burn. There are bravado moments in this triumphant outing...Sonic Youth aren't really old vets playing it safe just yet. 'What A Waste', 'Rats' (Renaldo feeds the vocals here), 'Jams Run Free' and 'Or' clearly demonstrates how painfully efficient they are in offering the indie kids a space jam, feedback duel and time-signature freakouts. You still get your basic trippy Sonic Youth songs when they're in their prime.

At such sonic moments, Sonic Youth hearken back to 'Daydream Nation', a record they made almost eighteen years ago. Until then, it had been unimaginable that Sonic Youth would ever be so popular let alone be featured in Rolling Stone, Q, CMJ, name it; so it was thrilling to hear them approach pop music, and then tear it up. Even after that, Sonic Youth thrived on the dramatic tension between artfully kicking ass like The Velvet Underground and their desire to write catchy tunes like, well, The Velvet Underground. On 'Rather Ripped', the band sound as if they've evolved past that tension (which ultimately helped break up the Velvets) and become what they always meant to be: postmodern jam masters who bring the noise.

Collectively, Sonic Youth plays this album tightly throughout the fifty-one minute journey through their most accessible noise-science project ever. Aren't you excited? Less than three days away to welcome back the avantgarde heroes of Generation X. Inside joke has it: "Screw Nirvana. They sold out, without a fight."

Download 'Turquoise Boy' off the album (limited time only).

You can order your own copy now via insound or your local record store.

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