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Published: 2006/06/22
by Chris Gardner

Rather Ripped – Sonic Youth

Geffen Records

By now, 23 years into the game, Sonic Youth has dropped into a
fairly predictable pattern. Each record nets you a fistful of Thurston
Moore songs that give the album its shape. When you're lucky, you get a few breathy, unsettling tracks from Kim Gordon, and almost invariably, you get a killer track from Lee Ranaldo—one contrary track that always inhabits its own space within the record. And you get it all here on _Rather
Ripped_. Like the rest of their recent work, it's a bit more tempered, a
bit more restrained than their early output, but that ain't necessarily a
bad thing.

Of the six tracks Thurston contributes here, "Incinerate" is easily the
standout. It's the catchy, chiming beauty Sonic Youth has always been
capable of scratching out. Their 2002 release, Murray Street,
resurrected the Sonic jam, supplanting blasts of noise and static with
crisp, clean melodic through lines. The guitars were clean, the "jams"
controlled. Jim O'Rourke — who served as a full time Youthian for _Murray
Street_ and its follow-up, the horribly titled Sonic Nurse — is at
least partially responsible for the focused and lucid sound that carries
over here. But in his absence, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore prove what
didn't need proving: between the two of them they're more than capable of
carrying the load. On "Incinerate," they twin and twine around the
melodies, leading one another through the slight shifts that add up to real
movement, despite the rhythmic anchor of Steve Shelley's steady pulse. "Do
You Believe In Rapture?" follows it up with quiescence, plinky thrums at the
strings augmented variously with noise, cymbal washes, and one promising but
quickly aborted jam, but the text is subversive as Thurston lays dotted
lines between the war monger who "yowl[s] his bloody tongue" for "blood and
war" and those "burnin' eyes [that] seek Jesus comin'." It hovers in a
languid beauty that also marks "Lights Out" where a woman prowls the room
"for a star to consume." Indeed, when you add these two to the subdued
closer, "Or," it seems that it's Thurston leading the movement out of the
blustery seas and toward the quiet shores.

Whether it's contrasted with Moore's relative relaxation or not, from the
first notes of "Rats." you know it's Ranaldo. The bass roots the melody
while the guitars frizzle on the periphery, shining noise back at the
center. Ranaldo has kept it noisy and abstract. While here he too is
perhaps more restrained than usual, he's still on the outside and seems to
revel in it. He's mulling "Endless strange things I see at night" when "You
don't see anything at all," and he promises that "if you're ever feeling lost
down in the fractured sunshine/ I'll help you feel the noise."

For her part, Kim Gordon's contributes five tracks. Her "Reena" opens the
record solidly, but she's at her best in a pair of tunes at the center of
the record. On "What a Waste" she sounds most herself, all breathiness and
edgy sexuality, demanding, "give me hollow stimulation," and "Let's invest
in dull creation." In her hands, sex is hollow and inviting, meaningless
and irresistible, both union and invasion. "Yr so chaste/I can't wait/To
taste yr face" just wouldn't sound right coming out of any other mouth.

On the next track, "Jams Run Free," Gordon (especially on the bridges) sounds like she's channeling Thurston, mimicking his inflections and overlaying her
own breath patterns. Midway through, she intones, "Jagged brain/ Slow
refrain," and the guitars begin shouting at one another across the watery
expanse, pinging messages from shore to shore, and building to a crescendo
that bursts back into the good-rockin' main riff as the jam runs straight on
and out through the end. It's compact (under four minutes), but the band
condenses the scope of a seemingly much larger jam into a little more than a
minute and a half, leaving you both wanting more and feeling that you've
heard it all. And despite all that, no song grows on me spin to spin more
than the straight-forward "The Neutral."

There are some duds here. "Sleeping Around" is an insidiously catchy,
overly-simplistic castoff, and neither "Turquoise Boy" nor "Pink Steam" does
enough to justify its six plus minute allotment—which is perhaps a good
argument for the relatively short remaining tracks, all of which conclude
before the five minute mark. But on the whole, this is a solid effort, the
third in a string for a band that for the first time (ever?) seems content
to mine the same familiar grounds for three albums in a row. It appears
that this is what Sonic Youth sounds like in a new millennium—less
fractured, less caustic, less esoteric, less avant-garde. Perhaps
they've settled, but if they have, at least they've settled into fertile

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