Review: Sonic Youth

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

There's something almost quaint about the way Sonic Youth compartmentalizes its various muses. A few weeks back, the band performed a free-form improv set at No Fun Fest. But this latest high-profile full-length—the outfit's first for Matador after nearly 20 years on DGC/Geffen—is relatively straightforward, featuring moody yet driving avant-punk in the vein of 2006's Rather Ripped.

As familiar as this disc sounds, it offers plenty of thrills. "Malibu Gas Station" sums up Sonic Youth's mastery of experimental pop: You'd have to look back to Television to find guitar interplay as simultaneously tasteful and utterly wizardly as what Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo come up with here. And "What We Know"—on which the axmen summon thickets of spiky noise over a steady midtempo groove—is like a master class in the art of outr shredding.

But in classic Sonic Youth fashion, vocals are often a weak point on The Eternal. Kim Gordon's breathy caterwaul works well during the high-energy opener, "Sacred Trickster," but grates during the more textural "Calming the Snake." And in light of the heartfelt, understated singing on Moore's '07 solo effort, Trees Outside the Academy, it's disappointing to hear him opting for his overdressed post--Lou Reed sneer on "Poison Arrow." Yet despite such rough elements, The Eternal still serves as a strong declaration of Sonic Youth's core aesthetic—pretty impressive considering its members' freaky proclivities.

Sonic Youth plays United Palace July 3.

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The Eternal (Matador)