Review Summary: A change of scenery label-wise prompts Sonic Youth to create their best album in years.
I revisited Daydream Nation
the other day after enduring seven months or so without listening to the album, and I was astonished by how fresh and modern it sounded. “Teenage Riot”---still Sonic Youth’s best song---sounded weirdly recent, as did “Candle", as did (mostly) every other song and album in the rest of the band’s canon. After a few hours or so of sifting through and lazily listening to countless SY classics, I realized how ahead of their time this band was (and is), how prophetic their music was, and how long their music has endured and that it would continue to endure for years to come.
Maybe that’s why Sonic Youth’s recent works have been so derivative of their past albums---they’ve just been patiently waiting on us to catch up to their brilliance. And if there’s any SY record to catch up on, it’s The Eternal
. A 56-minute rundown of everything that makes the band so great, The Eternal
is catchy and accessible; ironic, considering this album marks SY’s first indie-label release in 19 years.
is basically the band’s complete embrace of the hook. Opener “Sacred Trickster” sets the stage, featuring Kim Gordon’s signature lyrics and vocals placed over some of the most ferocious instrumentation the band’s played in years, aided by new fifth-wheel Mark Ibold. Her vocals wrap around the beefed-up playing aptly, barking out whimsy lyrics in concurrence with the music, attacking each verse and chorus with a newfound ferocity. The song is a dense smattering of distortion and manic yelping, shedding all Rather Ripped
-induced fears that the band was going soft on us.
Catchy choruses are abound on The Eternal
, found in the wide-ranging “Anti-Orgasm”, which features alternating vocals from Gordon and Thurston Moore before segueing into a Daydream Nation
-esque coda, and in “What We Know”, within which Lee Ranaldo gives one of the more impressive vocal performances of his career, adding a downtrodden edge to the song’s upbeat pace. Each of these tracks, along with many others on the record, are distorted, abrasive snippets of pent-up frustration; finding Moore or Gordon or Ranaldo (or even all three at the same time) venting tiredly about whatever comes to mind; all while each member bangs away at their respective instrument, keeping on cue melodically while letting their aggression remain evident.
Despite the majority of the tracks being oddments of ferocious noise-pop, there are still songs like “Antenna” and the closing “Massage the History” that explore the freakier, more psychedelic side of the Youth’s sound. Moore’s known to be an obscure record collector and aficionado, and it’s hard not to believe that some Japanese, acid-drenched folkies (i.e. Ghost, L) that he probably found in a dusty Mom-and-Pop operation didn’t influence the latter. “Massage the History” is the album’s biggest departure, featuring rising swoops of distortion and billowing drumming from Steve Shelley that add a trippy atmosphere to the otherwise standard-issue stuff, being some sparse acoustic playing and an odd falsetto delivered by Gordon. Throughout its nine minute length, the track eventually and impressively builds up to louder sections, retracting to folksier, acoustic sections, and etc. It’s one of the band’s most progressive and dynamic tracks of recent memory, and is sure to remain a highlight in the SY canon.
That The Eternal
closes on its best track gives hope to Sonic Youth’s future, providing optimism that they’re going to continue to pump out excellent albums. Looking backwards is a different matter: The Eternal
is simply just another confirmation that Sonic Youth is one of the most essential---if not the most essential---indie collectives of the past thirty years. Sure, the average age of a Sonic Youth member is around 52, but I expect these kids to be kicking it for many years to come.