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Album review: Sonic Youth's 'The Eternal'

June 9, 2009 |  3:47 pm
SONIC_YOUTH_240_ For nearly two decades, Sonic Youth followed its experimental whims under the Geffen corporate banner, making forward-looking rock as exciting and truly distinctive as anything they'd created for the guerrilla indie labels SST and Blast First. Their newest, "The Eternal," is the first to be released through the proud indie vet Matador, and the transition begins with a moment of clanging, atonal guitars.

Boho superstar Kim Gordon rips into two quick, breathless minutes of "Sacred Trickster," scraping at her guitar strings as she recites an imagined conversation: "What's it like to be a girl in a band? / I don't quite understand / That's so quaint to hear / I feel so faint, my dear."

Sonic Youth has perfected and expanded its approach through the years, still grinding at will but also laying back to take in the beauty of a quieter moment. Their cultural touchstones are again the lives of tragic artists, with lyrical references here to painter Yves Klein and Beat poet Gregory Corso, among others. Singer-guitarist Thurston Moore's "Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn)" is an excited ode to first-wave L.A. punk and doomed local antihero Darby Crash.

Drummer Steve Shelley sends anxious, tumbling beats through "Driving the Snake," and singer-guitarist Lee Ranaldo builds great waves of abrasive sound and melody to signify warmth and feeling on "Walkin' Blue" with a brief, but recurring vocal harmony that may be the first-ever echo of pure Beatles pop on a Sonic Youth album.

The music remains ageless and weird, fueled on chaos and clarity, but these are songs, not sound experiments for their own sake. Indie or not, Sonic Youth knows how to follow its wild trips into confusion and still be at peace with high-octane form and function.

-- Steve Appleford

Sonic Youth
"The Eternal"
Four stars

Origami Vinyl, 1816 W. Sunset Blvd, will be hosting a Sonic Youth listening event June 9 starting at 6:30 p.m. The night will feature live sets from Pocahaunted and Shiloe, as well as limited edition Thurston Moore vinyl releases from local label Deathbomb Arc. Refreshments and pizza from Two Boots will be provided. For more information, visit the Origami Web site.