Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Listen: Sonic Youth, The Eternal

The older the guys in Sonic Youth get, the funnier their band name becomes - leaders Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon are now 50 and 56, respectively. But you'd be hard-pressed to find any sign of middle-age slowdown on The Eternal, SY's 16th album. Their first for Matador after nearly 20 years on Geffen, this album finds the band energized, refreshed, and kicking ass.

The basic sonic template has never changed: driving rhythms, dissonant guitar explorations, a few hooks sprinkled about, mostly monotone vocals, and a sense of telepathic interplay. But this album not only contains some of the band's loudest material in some time ("What We Know," "No Way"), but also some of its prettiest. "Antenna" is slow and layered, guitars stacked one atop the other, while "Malibu Gas Station" starts with some gorgeous clean guitar, then grows menacing, Gordon's sinister vocals atop a slowly building fury. Nine-minute closer "Massage the History" is just lovely, acoustic guitars underpinning electric soundscapes and Gordon's semi-drugged line readings.

Overall, this is another Sonic Youth album, but it's a very good one. Despite a nearly 30-year history, the band sounds like they're just discovering one another again - they're awake and alive here. The Eternal is a good name for a record that proves there is a lot of life left in this sound.

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