Review Summary: Comme ci, comme ça.
A long time ago, in a review far, far away, it was said that the worst thing to ever happen to Sonic Youth was when they first asked each other “Hey, should we let Kim sing one?” As it stands, Kim Gordon’s bandmate, fellow vocalist and husband Thurston Moore has never been in contention for singer of the year either. With their latest release, Simon Werner a Disparu
, being an instrumental film score, it will come as a welcome surprise to those who enjoy the more experimental and meandering sounds the band produce instead of their usual vocal styling.
The film ‘Simon Werner a Disparu’ (known as ‘Lights Out’ elsewhere) is a French thriller set in a high school and on the surface Sonic Youth, with their penchant for eerie, feedback-laden soundscapes are a perfect partner for the film’s director Fabrice Gobert. On listening to the album you can get a feel for the potentially claustrophobic setting; narrow corridors, sparse lighting and the tension of suspicion and intrigue. This feeling is most accurately conveyed on the dark and dirty “Jean-Baptiste a la Fenetre”, with its cocksure strut, insistent guitar and Beefheartian vibe.
In fact, it’s not difficult to compare this album to a Magic Band jam session, assuming the Captain had forgotten to turn up. There’s off-kilter drum patterns, guitar playing that can best be described as “angular” and an all-round sense that at any moment it could all fall apart. However, it’s held together with a sense of lucidity that only playing in more or less the same setting for 30+ years can bring. The album’s penultimate track, “Au Café”, sees the group in more familiar territory and bringing to mind some of their more famous songs. “Chez Yves (Alice et Clara)” also harks back to a more immediate and memorable Sonic Youth sound; a buzz saw guitar line and a solid drum beat segues nicely into a hazy and dreamlike outro sequence.
There are times when the idea of experimentation can become too much to bear. The first minute of “Thème de Laetitia” will cause a painful wince as its razor sharp squall of feedback dominates proceedings and “Dans les Bois / M. Rabier” descends into a horrible mess after a suave first half.
Long time fans of Sonic Youth may wish to use this album as a barometer of the group’s future. There is a higher concentration of piano-led music on offer (most evident on the helpfully titled “Les Anges Au Piano”) and it could well hint at a change in focus and direction on their next studio LP and away from the scuzzier sound of 2009’s The Eternal