As a teenager, once I got over the total, utter, complete sell-out of Sonic Youth moving from legendary indie labels like Homestead and SST to undeniably major label Geffen in 1990, it was obvious pretty quickly that nothing had changed for the band. While my interest seemingly waned after Experimental Jetset, a quick scan through the back-catalogue reveals that I have inadvertently absorbed every major release - and none could be described as disappointing or flat. After releasing 9 albums with the label, Sonic Youth left Geffen in 2007, before pulling the typically left-field move of releasing a greatest hits exclusively through Starbucks, then self-re-released Master Dik and finally settling with Matador for the release of The Eternal.
While The Eternal is being promoted as something of a new chapter for the band, there's no need to reset your expectations - and you're certainly in no danger of being disappointed. Early single Sacred Trickster kicks things off, before the abrasive pummel of Anti-orgasm lets you know the band have lost none of their power - or their ability to craft a catchy tune. The sing-a-long style of Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso) sits comfortably alongside the screeching rock of Calming The Snake, making for a strangely cohesive record.
Jim O'Rourke may have departed in 2005, but the open slot in the line-up made room for former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold and his contribution is note worthy here, providing a focused spine through many of the songs that the guitars swirl closely around. The best songs on the album follow the same pattern that my Sonic favourites always did: a simmering, bubbling pot of sound that harnesses the power of a storm and takes its shape as a subtly catchy leviathan. Antenna, What We Know, Malibu Gas Station - there's more than a handful of excellent tracks on here that will disappoint no one.
While 2006's Rather Ripped and Thurston Moore's own solo album have arguably moved the band into a more conventionally structured sequence of songs, it's easy to forget how much the musical landscape has shifted since the band's early, pioneering albums of the 80s. The feedback drenched sounds of Sister or Daydream Nation are now considered essential listening - due to the popularity of the 90s alternative explosion that Sonic Youth helped enable. As a result, it's easy not to appreciate how radical a custom-tuned 9.43 minute closing track like Massage The History may have once seemed.
While the girls may be commenting how good Kim Gordon's legs are for a 56 year old, I'm just happy that the band have kept their ambition and refusal to conform. It may not be so much of a new chapter, but at least The Eternal is the continuing story of an old favourite.
9th Jun 2009 - Tumblr3.5
Turn The Lights Out
Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge
I'm Not There [Music From The Motion Picture]
Roots & Crowns
Brixton Academy, London
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