I love Sonic Youth. I've been a fan from the beginning. So it is with a heavy heart I say that their newest album Rather Ripped is neither Sonic, nor Youthful. "Sure", you cynical bastards say, "I've been feeling that way since Goo". But with each subsequent album, the band has found a way to tweak their sound just enough to keep things interesting without ever veering too far away from their original mission statement.
Okay, they're not perfect. There have been some pseudo-missteps to be sure. I still for the life of me can't quite put my finger on what was missing from 1998's A Thousand Leaves but it seems to be the same that's missing from this one. Sure, they've come into this project with somewhat of a softer touch and it's hard to say whether this was a calculated move or a natural progression staved off by the influence of Jim O'Rourke for the past few years.
I don't know if they all just realized the influence and the seemingly Svengali-like hold they appear to possess over their younger, impressionable peers, but one thing's for sure - this is probably the most upbeat sounding album the band has ever released. The timing's curious, but hellÃ¢â¬Â¦maybe they're just happy that by the time their contract with Geffen expires, they'll be eligible to collect a pension. Still, when all is said and done, lesser Sonic Youth still excels over other bands you can name.
There's really nothing offensive about the album, but it has that weird unmemorable quality that thankfully doesn't happen too often. While Sonic Nurse was hardly a masterpiece, it still had an immediacy to it that just isn't present on this release. The two-standout tracks - "Pink Steam" and "Incinerate" harkens back to the more chaotic years. But, as with every song on the album, there is a subtler, pensive approach. Kim Gordon's "The Neutral" has a cuddly little sheen that the band hasn't really been demonstrated since, well, forever, really. This makes it more palatable for the casual listener but those familiar may find it lacks the surreal otherworldly nuance of say, "Diamond Sea." So for all those non-believers that have always found Sonic Youth to be too discordant and just plain noisy, this'll be a good starting point so you can see what your cooler friends have been talking about for all these years.
Rather Ripped showcases a slight stylistic shift for Sonic Youth. Their trademarked noisy dirge rock has been subdued a bit to allow a bit of melody to accentuate the more subtle nature of their music. Quite possibly, this may be the most accessible the band has been since Goo and Dirty, which is not a bad thing. At more than 25 years and kicking, Sonic Youth has more than proved that the unit will do as it damn well pleases.
Upon popping on Rather Ripped, it is a pleasant surprise to hear "Reena" with Kim Gordon's uncharacteristic vocal rendition. The song actually displays a relaxed tuneful maturity that Sonic Youth rarely visits. It's almost bubbly sounding but in a depressing way, if that makes any sense at all. I dig the song very much. The dueling guitars have an almost clean, crisp sound that carry a counter melody of sorts to the vocals. "Incinerate" has a great guitar melody. Again, the guitars sound almost clean and very crisp. Thurston Moore lends his vocals to this track. There are moments in the song where the band teases you with potential spots for a fuzzed out guitar freak-out but are left with a controlled chaos of sorts that is short and sweet. "Do You Believe in Rapture" continues this relaxed mood. It does contain bits of white noise in the background, but it actually accentuates the vocal melody and the plucked guitars. They continue to toy with the prospects of blazing into some feedback drenched passages but opt to tantalize the listener instead.
By the time "Sleeping Around" rolls around, the band finally gives a taste of what they are known for and yet it still seems slightly held back. It actually has a bluesy feel in the vocals as well as some of the musical arrangement. "What a Waste" has poppy elements, but plays those against a few feedback washes and a bit more of Kim's usual vocal style. The song has an oddly alluring melodic quality to it that I find myself coming back to frequently. "Jams Run Free" also has a strangely addictive quality to it. Gordon's vocals have an almost sexy quality to them. The music has a kind of "space rock" feel to it. It is tough to explain the pull that I have to listening to these two tracks in particular.
"Turquoise Boy" is my favorite song on Rather Ripped, hands down. It has soft sounding pieces and a hypnotic quality. It is very soothing to listen to and could probably listen to just this song all day long. The noisy passage that the song degrades into amplifies the moods and feelings that were present in the early parts of the track, and then it seamlessly re-enters the main parts again. "The Neutral" is another surprising part of Rather Ripped. The song has a kind of lullaby feel. The chorus keeps it from being one-dimensional. It works. "Or" is a trippy way to end the record. It is an almost oppressively calm track and an apt closer.
Sonic Youth continue to experiment and explore their sound. Rather Ripped is no exception. It is an excellent record that I find myself listening to repeatedly.
7.15 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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