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Published: 2002/08/24
by Chris Gardner

Murray Street – Sonic Youth

Geffen Records 10755-2

Murray Street is, among many other things, the location of Sonic Youth's recording studios and the
crash site of large portions of one of the planes that impaled the Twin
Towers. The record sleeve holds snapshots of various stages of recovery
beside crowd shots of rapt fans — closed eyes, gaping mouths, distracted
glances, intense stares, hands folded in reverence. In the wake of an event
that changed the face of NYC, Sonic Youth, a band inextricably linked to the
town, couldn't avoid the subject, well…not entirely. While lyrical
references are oblique at best, the music seems to show the impact. In
short, the band that defined noise is playing nice.

Murray Street is unabashedly groovy. Sonic Youth — groovy. The
still look strange beside each other, but that is undeniably the case. This
is no Tiny Universe, mind you. It is Sonic Youth's groove — more of a
steady pulse than an outright groove. Rather, it is the dreamy headbob of
"Disconnection Notice" with its classic rock undertones, or the flow of
"Empty Page". They still blow ear-splitting blasts of static, but the bursts
lay beneath the groove, as on "Disconnection Notice", or take abrupt right
turns back into honeyed tones. "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style" runs
through a verse, dives headlong into a screeching mindmelt of noise, and
snaps immediately back into the pulse. Murray Street is clean too.
guitar tones fall like drops of water rather than shards of glass. The album
coheres, developing a thread of unity through the pulse, thus making a loner
out of Kim Gordon's caustic "Plastic Sun", which would have felt right at
home on a number of other albums from their catalog. Her "Sympathy for the
Strawberry" fits more squarely in the mold, rooting itself around four
chiming tones and a thick bass line.

Lee Ranaldo seems to be making a habit of writing one phenomenal song per
album. "Karen Revisited" is the flash you have when you see the ex. Not
the one who talked shit to all of your friends and stole your Surfer
but the one that just kind of faded away. It is the smile of remembering
the best and the residual anger for the one who was "too busy getting high"
to make it work. It is a love letter to someone who either won't read it or
will read it once and lose it. It is wistful, spurned, and flat out
beautiful. The structured story ends in a frustrated wail, the ripping of
an old picture, the final "fuck you", and then it all falls apart. The
can't sustain itself. Time loss sets in, and the piece melts into a woozy
tone poem. Sounds fly past, flashing across the radar, rising and swelling
into nothing. It is kind of music that would leave bleary-eyed Karen
lolling her head around, trying to follow sounds with her eyes.

Were it not for "Rain on Tin", Ranaldo would be dusting another "Best Song
on Album" award next to his "nyc ghosts & flowers" statuette. Thurston
Moore's vocals quickly give way to the guitars. The piece runs through
seemingly dozens of slight, slow, and steady changes, following a lucid
progression to a rumble of drums and a hit-and-run car crash of noise that
bounces immediately back into the jam. The guitars, all three of them,
interlace, weaving beautiful sheets of sounds. The rhythm section breaks
near the end, the guitars weave their final flights, and the piece closes.
Here is where Jim O'Rourke, listed for the first time as a full-fledged
member of the band, makes his presence felt, and it is more a matter of
numbers than anything else. He augments the Sonic Youth sound, but it would
take more than one man to change what has taken years to create. The song
inhabits the nether regions between composition and jam. The changes are
too calculated to be spontaneous, but too organic to be composed. It is
self-propelled music – music that seems to have done exactly what it wanted
to do.

Murray Street isn't a rallying cry. It isn't a fist clenched in
anger or a
steely resolve. It isn't a brick or a girder or a front-end loader or any
of the other trademarks of the recovery effort. It won't house anyone or
pay a bill or bring back a loved one.

It is some of the most beautiful work in the band's catalog, though,
and that may
serve as some comfort to their fellow New Yorkers as we near the anniversary
of the day a chunk of an airliner fell like a broken heart onto the pavement
of Murray Street.

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