Sonic Youth - The Eternal
Matador Records
Alt/Progressive/Post-Rock
12 songs (56:25)
Release year: 2009
Sonic Youth, Matador Records
Reviewed by Goat

Taking the scuzzy Proto-Punk of The Stooges and Patti Smith and viewing them through an Avant-Garde, experimental filter influenced by the likes of John Cage, Sonic Youth arose from the musical underground of 80s New York to walk a career path few can match. Rising from the likes of the No-Wave and early Noise Rock scenes, they were an important early Alternative band, and survived twenty years on a major label, doing exactly what they wanted and releasing a highly respected series of experimental EPs. You want cred, Sonic Youth have it in spades, and it’s quite gratifying for me to discover that, after spending years as a casual listener and only seriously beginning to explore their discography recently, that latest (number sixteen!) album The Eternal is excellent.

Rock music is anathema to many Metalheads, the few 80s bands that find wide appeal amongst the more Power Metal-inclined, yet there’s a physical presence and surprising heaviness to Sonic Youth’s open-minded music that should resonate with anyone reading. Take Anti-Orgasm as an example, opening with cheerful-sounding Indie brightness before descending into a nakedly erotic duel between husband-wife guitarist-vocalist team Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, surprisingly technical in style, a rather sudden change in the ending flying off into Post-Rock territory. Not to ignore the other members, of course – recent addition ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold does a fine job, as does drummer Steve Shelley, equally capable of a solid backing Rock beat and more experimental work, although he’s never a show-off. It’s third guitarist/vocalist Lee Ranaldo who’s most obviously impressive, however, sharing vocals with Moore and Gordon on the Art-Rocky Leaky Lifeboat (for Gregory Corso) and the funky Noise-Rock monster Poison Arrow, yet it’s penultimate track Walkin Blue where he really shines, taking the helm for a gently rocking song that’s one of the many highlights of this subtly beautiful album.

Now, ‘beautiful’ is a word that generally only devotees of this band tend to use about them. From their infatuation with Noise to the often atonal guitars, to Kim and Thurston’s vocals, the Punk snottiness often gets in the way of their potentially magnificent sense of melody – Sonic Youth does have rather a pop-culture reputation as a hipster band, unfortunately – but if you take the time to get to know the band, the underlying excellence becomes clearer. On The Eternal especially, there are many moments where the band seem to draw the veil back and let you see just what they’re getting at; the relatively simple yet rather amazing Antenna just one example, the best usage of the basic Post-Rock template I’ve heard – well, ever.

The eerie invocation of Calming The Snake, the almost pastoral American Folk of Malibu Gas Station, the quasi-Hardcore of Sacred Trickster... the band’s wide range of styles yet ability to tie them all together is excellent. Album finale Massage The History proves that beyond all possible doubt, the nine-minute-plus song strolling through gentler territories, with a career-best performance from Gordon, sounding almost ethereal at moments and providing the emotional punch to the guitars’ jangling atmospherics. It’s the perfect finish to a damn near-perfect album, a journey through the scenery and history of American Rock that is one of the finest releases of the year, the John Fahey-painted artwork alone proving Sonic Youth’s class and status above the Nickleback clones that make up much modern American Rock music. For a band formed in 1981, Sonic Youth sound very much alive, and are more relevant than ever in 2009 – a fact proved with each listen you give The Eternal.

MySpace
Killing Songs :
Anti-Orgasm, Antenna, Poison Arrow, Walkin Blue, Massage The History
Goat quoted 89 / 100
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