From third voice to first, Ranaldo shines apart from Sonic Youth
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The surprising end of Sonic Youth last fall in the wake of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s separation as a married couple left one of the more productive bands of the past 30 years at a standstill. The band had produced 16 proper studio albums, in addition to various singles, EPs and full-length experimental records.
On top of that, the individual band members had always managed to fit side projects and secondary bands in between Sonic Youth’s work. Moore has a separate solo career to fall back on. Gordon has her own projects in the world of music and fashion.
Out of the spotlight, as he typically is, Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth’s third voice, had always kept busy during breaks, but the band’s hiatus has given him a forum to lead an entire record of his own songs. And on this initial offering, Between the Times and the Tides, he doesn’t disappoint.
Ranaldo has certainly developed as Sonic Youth’s career chugged on, moving from realms of pure stream-of-conscious and near outsider art to mature song structures and soundscapes. His two-to-three turns on each Sonic release always revealed an about-face from wherever Thurston and Kim were heading, a sharp counter that helped balance out their records, all of which were universally strong from 1992 on.
Not unlike George Harrison following the demise of the Beatles, Ranaldo quickly turned out this 10-song collection after Sonic Youth went on the shelf at the end of 2011, his first non-experimental solo record, if that’s the proper term. He’s released several albums of noise and guitar experiments in the past, not to mention books collecting his journals and poetry. Here, we see Ranaldo the songwriter applying all those tricks and textures to his lyrical work.
The soaring guitar on “Xtina as I Knew Her” alone is worth the price of admission, while “Stranded” features some slide guitar that leans long and wide. His beat leanings show on “Shouts,” which features wife Leah Singer reciting poetry over an ambitious, spacey bridge.
The spare acoustics of “Hammer Blows” wouldn’t have been necessarily out of place on one of his former band’s albums, but they certainly never recorded a song like this. His voice and words are able to carry the tune, though, and again, his ability as a guitarist goes far beyond feedback theatrics and odd tunings.
And while this record will be first be discovered by old Sonic Youth fans, particularly those who dug Ranaldo’s songs, it shouldn’t be that way. Independent of 30 years of context, this is a striking album, one that should reach far beyond his old audience, if there were any justice to that sort of thing.
Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. But, if underground stardom isn’t on the way just yet, Between the Times and the Tides establishes what so many long thought, that Ranaldo is one of the better songwriters of his generation, a musician more than capable of carrying a record and a band on his own.
If Sonic Youth reunites at some point, they’ll be getting back a guitarist all the stronger for the freedom. If they don’t, the music world has been given another voice to carry them through.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org