When it comes to Sonic Youth, it’s not easy to write a review the same that it might be for a band that is new and breaking onto the scene. After all, the New York band has been a rock stalwarth for over 20 years now, releasing some incredible albums during that span. The list of bands they have influenced, and continue to influence is too long to mention here and I would imagine they are a band that will continue to find favor with future generations of musicians and fans alike.
Because of all that, it’s no simple task to tackle a new Sonic Youth album, but we just write opinions here anyway, right? There are those that feel they have not released much worth caring about in 10 years, and others that lap up every song on every album with the SY name splattered across it. Well, take into account first that I am a Sonic Youth fan, but have only considered myself a fan for a handful of years. I mentioned in a review for their 2008 biography Goodbye 20th Century that “casual fan” was a good way to describe my respect for Sonic Youth. That said, the book caused me to dig into more of the back catalouge and go from “casual fan” to “avid fan” pretty quickly, so this release was high on my list of anticipated albums this year.
Not only had Sonic Youth broken ties with longtime label Geffen Records after fulfilling their historic contract with their last Geffen release Rather Ripped in 2006, but the band jumped to “biggest fish in the indie pond” Matador Records for album number 16.
The Eternal is not that different from several other recent Sonic Youth albums, at least in the past 10 years or so, or since Murray Street, which seemed to be a return to form for the band whos renewed energy has carried them fairly consistently since. John Agnello is once again behind the decks, retained after his excellent work on Rather Ripped, and new to the fold is former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold, who has been playing live with the band since 2006, but contributes to a studio recording for the first time.
There is still plenty of stunning guitar work, mostly courtesy of Thurston Moore. Lee Ranaldo writes and sings quite a bit on this album, and his influence is probably the underrated, yet essential heartbeat for the entire thing. And Kim Gordon once again provides the sex appeal and very necessary grit that every Sonic Youth album needs, especially on here call and response “Anti-Orgasm” with Thurston. I still have a hard time with Gordon’s voice the first few times through, then I can’t imagine the song without it.
There are even moments of mid-tempo beauty on tunes like “Malibu Gas Station”, which shows a bit gentler side of Gordon and is driven by the always precise beat of percussion wiz Steve Shelley. Moore pays homage to the late punk pioneer Darby Crash (aka Booby Pryn) on the stunning tune “Thunderclap” and all three band staples take their turn on “Poison Arro”w, which has that desert rock punk feel to it that would fit comfortably alongside anything from the SY back catalog.
It could be one of the best albums I have heard so far this year, what do you think? Decide for yourself by grabbing the record June 9th from Matador. Until then, enjoy the albums first tune, “Sacred Trickster.”