Sonic Youth | Rather Ripped (Geffen)

Always living in the moment, the band effortlessly bats out a new record that stands as possibly its most accessible.

Here in the fast-paced, disposable pop culture in which Joe Millionaire is quickly forgotten and replaced by yet another reality TV show, it’s very difficult to think of a modern rock band that’s retained any lasting staying power. It’s an even shorter list when you wrack your brain trying to come up with bands that have been around for over 20 years but are still making good, solid records. U2? OK, there’s one. REM? Debatable, given the rather dismal reception of Around the Sun. Metallica? Forget about it. They haven’t made a truly good record since 1988’s …And Justice for All. Which brings us to New York City’s Sonic Youth.

While never reaching the pinnacle of mainstream success of the aforementioned bands, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley are still at it, rocking out in their moderately successful underground. Indeed, 25 years have passed since Moore’s formative years under the wing of avant-garde “no wave” noise-symphony composer Glenn Branca led him to form a band with wild ideas about song forms and freedom of expression. Unafraid to revel in strange tunings, off-kilter rhythms, propulsive attacks on their instruments with machine tools and drumsticks, and wafting, out-there vocal tracks, Sonic Youth have tried it all and given the world an enormous catalog of material as a result.

Always living in the moment, the band effortlessly bats out a new record that stands as possibly its most accessible. While nobody can be sure if the record is named after a legendary record store in Berkeley, Calif., or just a general feeling of chemically induced euphoria, Rather Ripped extrapolates on the jam-band sound they’ve been working toward over the last handful of records, concentrating and distilling that approach into a series of short and sweet blasts of real-deal modern rock.

At first listen, Rather Ripped feels pretty lightweight compared with their older stuff, but as with most of the last few releases, repeated spins reveal a world of melodies, riffs, distortion, and strange sounds hiding under the main grooves. New listeners will find a lot of interesting new sounds with which to connect. Seasoned fans will hear aspects of the entire Sonic Youth canon floating about, invigorated by the immediate approach taken by this recording. Fans of the recent handful of records will likely appreciate the under-five-minutes brevity of the lion’s share of the songs, where devotees of the 20-minute-plus romp “The Diamond Sea” or the almost as long “Hits of Sunshine” from the late ’90s might find this record and its songs a bit short.

Rather Ripped is a fine record to add to the stack. Here’s hoping Sonic Youth’s hot streak holds up a little longer and gives us a few more where this one came from. 

 


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