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Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped Review

by Patrick Muldowney

Since turning thirty-one recently, my wife had to remind me that I am now "in my thirties", not just thirty. This may be true, but as a music listener I feel like a high school kid, or actually like I'm back in high school, as I've spent most of this year getting reacquainted with the bands I loved in high school. I remember when Goo arrived in the mail from Columbia House, feeling like the coolest outcast on earth from the first listen. This adoration continued on through Experimental Jet Set…, and began to fizzle with Washing Machine, completely extinguishing with A Thousand Leaves, which lacked the raw energy I had associated with SY. Rather Ripped brings back thoughts of those nostalgic albums that kept company to so many Generation Xers.

This latest album ended my biggest question with the first song: Can I stand Kim Gordon's voice? This is an issue that changes from album to album in a very love/hate way. Her screaming voice is like fingernails on a chalkboard to me, whereas her breathy voice is textured with a strain that makes me believe her lungs are like bags of Kingsford charcoal, but pleases my ears. "Reena" puts that fear of hate to rest. She is reminiscent of a queen bee leading the sonic swarm, as Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore attack the strings in the same jaw-dropping manner I witnessed live at Lollapalooza over a decade ago.

"Reena" surprisingly becomes a warm-up for one of the best pop rock songs Sonic Youth has written, "Incinerate". It's two minutes longer than the average listener's attention span, being five minutes long, but the time moves much quicker than the repetitive three-minute crap we've come to accept, and expect. Both Moore and Ranaldo have the talent of mixing guitar lines and chords seamlessly into melodies, and this does not divert from the overall sound, but definitely presents a musical superiority over bands dependent on structural changes for such movement. The mixture is symphonic for this tune, which might require four quality guitarists to replicate. Moore delivers his verbal angst with his usual calm tone, making him as likely to sing about meeting a pleasant young lady he can't forget as the actual lyrics about "ripping hearts out" and the misery of destroying another while being destroyed. "Incinerate" also has those aptly placed chords distorting out circa Pete Townsend, which is perfect for any song that exemplifies rock.

"Jams Run Free" delves a little more into the experimental side, which is always expected of Sonic Youth. The dissonance at the beginning gives the illusion of the guitar being out of tune with the bass, but in such a subtly intended way that the ears notice without forcing the mouth to grimace. Gordon delivers a "Bull in the Heather" type voice, which plays perfectly along with the darker music. Words like "jagged brain/slow refrain" create fragmented images which form complete ideas when she whispers, "I like the way you move/I hope it's not too late for me." Midway through the song all lyrics dissipate, leaving the final two minutes for feedback that circles back into the original progressions. There was a point, as a SY fan, that I started believing their music was more enjoyable for them, as musicians, than the rest of us, as listeners. "Jams Run Free" is indicative of this opinion no longer having relevance, as the song clocks in under four minutes, while building up to that end, rather than ending long before the noise stops.

Once again proving the value of this product, Rather Ripped saves its best, and longest, song for Track 11. "Pink Steam" is Sonic Youth at its finest, delivering a long intro that only guitarists like Ira Kaplan of Yo La Tengo can even conceive. With lyrics absent for the first five minutes, the guitars arrive on the horizon with a vintage Fender reverb driven by a solid rhythm that moves the ankles before spreading to the head. You absolutely want to drive through a city at night with this blasting. In fact, a couple weeks ago, when I went to see a band of musical masturbators imitate Yes until I actually fell asleep standing in the crowd (never thought that possible), upon leaving I immediately threw this song on to stave off the nausea. Thurston Moore enters lyrically in a moment similar to "Ono Soul" to say he's "come by to run you over". I would have appreciated him running over Aloha the other night, that's for sure.

Rather Ripped is the best release of all the bands surfacing from my teenage years. In reality, they never went anywhere, but if, like me, you've lost contact with their happenings, this is the album for which you should reconnect. If you've been a fanatic all along, pat yourself on the back for not losing faith. And finally, if you're young and impressionable, like I once was, let this be the album that convinces you that you are cooler than everyone else, and let this be your portal to an incredibly distinguished rock band.

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