Sunday, August 22, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 18--A Respectful Distance)

JUNE 2006

Sonic Youth's sixteenth album would be their final one for DGC after an equal number of years. Recorded at Sear Sound (like Sister and Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star before it) alongside master mixer/recorder/producer John Agnello (one of the few who can claim they've worked with both Patti Smith and Patty Smythe), Rather Ripped was a stunner for anyone expecting Sonic Youth to embrace their abrasive side. Content to watch the likes of Wolf Eyes and Double Leopards, smart to not feel any silly need to "compete," they set out to make an airier, gentler set of songs. Thurston Moore grew fond of telling interviewers that RR was their version of Blondie's Parallel Lines, and while one must always take Thurston interview answers with the entire shaker of salt, better that album than, say, Auto-American.

If you had told me, back in '06, that the upcoming SY wreck-hard would feature naught colors but red and black, I would have Snoopy-jigged in muted glee. My two favorite colors, my favorite band, together at last. Well if you'd been a real pal you would've set me down and then explained that the cover would also feature some shit stenciling. Then, after rubbing my back while I choked on my own sad fangirl tears, you'd whisper that it would alllll work out in the end, to just have faith in the black-haloed angel. Beautiful. Looks like the bloody blowback of a gunshot wound splat on some scary guest room wallpaper.

"Reena"--"You keep me comin' home again."

Rather Ripped is not precisely a fan favorite, at least not if we're using the Internet as a barometer. I generally don't care about that (or critical opinion; Rolling Stone named it the third-best album of 2006, which is worth about as much as buffaloes bouncing 'round the terrain in their own crap), but I took notice when the negativity came from people I actually knew. Most of the SY fans I am friends and/or friendly with are the type with ecumenical musical taste, voracious and rapacious consumers (and oftentimes also producers) of sounds. To them, Rather Ripped is a once-great band picking at the frayed ends of the nerves that once made them vital. I disagree, respectfully, because I understand that while we're all hearing the same music, we're listening with different standards. I don't expect Daydream Nation from 21st-century Sonic Youth and frankly, comparing Rather Ripped to that record is like comparing a pop-up book to Shakespeare. Which is not a slight; those books can be wildly enjoyable, depending on what exactly pops up.

"Reena" is Reena Spauling, a fictional "It" girl in the circles of fashion and art, a figure made out by artists to be utterly fascinating but impossible to truly know. (In this way, at least, Reena Spauling is art.) Kim does a better job than all other interpreters at making the myth magical, imbuing it with sensual tension that holds up under scrutiny. The boys whip up a sweet, bang-lifting breeze as crystallized pop replaces labyrinthine skronk (I found it actually breathtaking when the wind picks up 'round 1:23 let's go!) but basically this is Kim G.'s showcase. How exactly does she keep her static cool? Double-tracking never hurts!

"Incinerate"--Thur-bone's first appearance is catchier'n a Village People medley. The badgering guit in the chorus is like a bleating call to the bat phone, straight from the husband of the real Commissioner Gordon.

Thurston is almost a little too calm for a song about fulminant heartbreak, but that's actually perfect. He knows that no one really wins in a firefight. I adore also the gentle string plucks juxtaposed against the lyrical conflagration.

Three things to take from "Incinerate":

1. Bitterness over love had and lost is missing the point.
2. When in doubt, take the last verse out.
3. Firefighters are like cops that people actually like.

"Do You Believe in Rapture?"--The failure of John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election (understood more accurately as defeat at the hands of hick schlubs and apathetic youth) means more songs on how much Bush sucks, when really Thurston should be writing about sucking bush.

The dull thud throughout created by Kim striking her pick against a single bass string doesn't make up for the rest of the song, which is thuddingly dull. "Do you believe in rapture, babe?" Yessir I do. And I further believe that you best get on with it.

("Do You Believe in Rapture?" was also considered as an album title. That woulda been weird.)

"Sleepin' Around"--In 2005 SY posted a short video clip, comprised solely of still photos, called "Summer Sonic." Over shots of band members, friends, family, records and dogs both real and fictional played a demo instrumental version of what would become "Sleepin' Around." It chugs like only a garage band comprised of the oldest, coolest fuckers breathing could. It's a bit sneaky, too, a bit shaky, and as a listener I could only imagine how it would sound once they double-bolted the thing.

Surely it starts fat as a promise ain't. Poltergeist possesses the alarm clock, and Preacher Steve is summoned to roll it on out, and all seems smooth as far as demon evictions go until...the lyrics spew pea soup all over the place.

"Sleepin' around, sleepin' around/What would the neighbors say."

I got some ideas.

Thurston, you are demonstrably better than this. You fucking wrote "Tom Violence," my dude. "My violence is a dream/A real dream." "I'm sleeping nights awake." And I could bust out other examples of letter-chain genius from other songs, but I won't, 'cause you already know.

If I ever cross paths with this song on the street, I'm gonna shoot it in the legs. And I'll be aiming for the femoral artery.

"What a Waste"--Funny then, that the lyrical nadir of the album is immediately followed by its apex. Thurston and Kim shared lyrical duties but the vocal honors are all Kim.

Ooooh, I feel like making a shitty neologism...Kimpeccable!

The first verse of "What a Waste" has left an indelible impression on my noodle, especially the very first line: "You gimme hollow stimulation." The longer I live my life, the more cracks and crevices I explore, the more I see what "hollow stimulation" is, and feel gripped by a great sense of guilt which is subsequently subsumed by a greater determination to no longer feel so empty. This is no commentary on what I personally feel the song as a whole is attempting to communicate, mind you. I dare not even begin with that one.

The chorus is much-maligned, and absolutely fabulous like a drunk bitch falling into an open grave.

"What a waste
You're so chaste
I can't wait
To taste your face"

First, gotta love beneath and beyond, when Lee steps in and up, like, "This provides an opportune time for some magus mastery, courtesy of me," and proceeds to clash some earth wind and fire together. Dude is dependable.

Now to the chorus. I love it for a number of reasons. There's the sexiness inherent in just the desire to taste one's face, much less the action itself. It also reminds me of the chorus to El-P's "Dr Hell No and the Praying Mantus."

"Don't make me bite ya face/'Cause it ain't like I like the taste."

Then Vast Aire does a battle rap, and El-P drops some gnarly sex rhymes. Cohere on concepts much? Anyway.

Point! Say Nick Cave put that in a song, "I can't wait to taste your face." It would no longer be considered barely worthy of an eye-roll, it would be all haunted and swoony and goth as a black moth attracted to liquor-drenched cloth. Like sittin' in a laundromat with the ghost of Flannery O'Connor on Halloween while the Deliverance kid plays the theme from A Clockwork Orange on the banjo while waiting for his delicates to dry.

But since it's Kim Gordon, it's weak, it's bad, it's ruining all my good memories! I must turn my disillusionment into snark! Wait while I think of a really epic age joke!

"Jams Run Free"--At the risk of getting smirked at...ignored...shunned...I cannot lie. The main riff of this song has always reminded me of "1979" by Smashing Pumpkins. I do not find this as off-putting as you may, namely because while Billy Corgan is an insufferable douchenozzle, the fucker could, on more occasions than he'll ever get credit for, write a decent-or-better song. I do not, however, operate under even the remotest delusion that anything he ever wrote has ever influenced Sonic Youth. Ever. It's just a funny coincidence, is all.

"Jams Run Free" is arguably the most intelligently-structured song on Rather Ripped, which makes it stick out more than it should (usually SY have such brilliant quilt patterns all over their albums, not so much here). The guitars whorl the suggestive into submission. Thurston so wisely gave his lyrics to his wife, 'cause she speaks the language of magnetism. Kim is agonizingly on the edge. "I love...the way...you move." I almost want to comfort her, knowing how that kind of pained attraction can only end in disaster.

("Jams Run Free" was another contender for an album title. While in theory I would have loved it, it would have guaranteed endless interviewer questions about Sonic Youth making an appeal to the jam band crowd. And the fact they played Coachella in '06? Oh Lord.)

"Rats"--Oh hi Mr. Lee. Is this better than "Paper Cup Exit"? By leaps and bounds, m'lord.

Kim and Thurston switch roles, with the tall man playing bass on an SY wreck for the first time since Goo, and Kim blessing us with dusty diamonds. (Seeing Sonic Youth for the first time on an album tour is frequently enlightening, and no moment moreso on the Rather Ripped tour when I realized that Kim is the one who's really helping us feel the noise.)

The abrupt volume switches from verse to bridge to semi-chorus are odd, but ultimately serve a purpose by making Lee's simple call to "Shine down" sound like a plea for salvation. The three vocalists in SY each evoke unique universes, and all told, Lee's are the ones I'd like to inhabit the most.

"Turquoise Boy"--Another song where Kim sings lyrics written by her husband. The likes of "Sleepin' Around," "Do You Believe in Rapture?," and "Lights Out" had caused me to proclaim a precipitous drop in the quality of Thurston's lyricism, but then I realized--he's still capable of fantastic wordplay, he's just not singing any of it himself. That's kinda beautiful. Giving your wife all your good lyrics is the new "I love you."

Recommended activity: chuck this marvelously combobulated song on the stereo (or mp3 player, if you must), sprawl out on a comfortable surface (and yes it must be comfortable, no objects on the ground jutting into any part of your body and making you squirm), and enjoy the sensation of molecules escaping your body, up up and away, hooray for everything.

"Lights Out"--Follow the bouncing guitar line on screen and sing along. Smart move not giving this one to Kim, because there's magic and then there's miracles, and there's only so much of either one human being can be expected to perform.

"The Neutral"--This has usurped "Reena" as my favorite on the album; it's almost that tracks inverse, an ode to a barely-comprehensible icon of the mundane everyday. It's interesting to compare the languorous descriptive styles of both "The Neutral" and SY's ultimate nod to the star-fan nexus, "Star Power." One is sensual while just avoiding oozing over into sleaze, the other fawning to the point of an eventually developed disinterest.

Both feature instrumental flourishes worthy of accompanying souls into the afterlife.

Me: "You know what rules most? Right after the li'l kinda chorus, when they casually step on the pedals and just gently fuzz it out, like beatin' somebody in the forehead with a toasted marshmallow on a stick."

Patrick: "Huh?"

Me: "It's like persistent, and it tickles, and it's so sweet you wanna eat it."

Patrick: "Yeah?"

Me: "Yessir. It pricks all my senses into hyper-alert mode."

Patrick: "That's cool. Is our exit coming up soon?"

"Pink Steam"--A reverse "Rain on Tin": extended instrumental first, then Thurston spewage. Influenced by Dodie Bellamy's novel of the same name. One of the most enrapturing things they will ever commit to record; everyone is operating at maximum demigod capacity--have I not mentioned the bad-ass perfection that is Steve Shelley's drumming yet? Dude would make a hell of a referee in another life--and at the three minute mark, it becomes almost unbearable, like hearing the angular momentum before getting sucked into the black hole, like feeling the bones underneath your skin strain to rip through.

"We cannot possibly keep this up," the collective Sonic mind realized. "It sustains or improves, and either way, it'll make all future music, by us or anyone else, utterly pointless. We gotta take it down a notch."

Breaking free momentarily from the braintrust, Thurston Moore offered a solution: "It needs lyrics. I'll write some lyrics."

Well, there's taking it down a notch and then there's taking off the whole goddamn belt. The lyrics veer between flushed eros and "ugh, bro."

I just came by to run you over
I just came by to watch you quiver

Damn, I feel some condensation.

I'm the man who loves your mother

Oh man.

Sweet lips/Flowers and cream
Deep in love/Surrender pink steam

If by "pink steam" you mean "panties"--consider them relinquished!

Deep in love you need no other
Deep in love your lonely lover

For the longest while, I thought Thurston was singing "lovely lover," which sounds almost too ridiculous to exist, but put no thing past no one at no time, I always say. "Lonely lover" is better by a baby's breath.

"Or"--A fitting way to end the album, a song that comes off like a Thurston poem surrounded by incidental sounds (not the least of which would be Lee giving love taps to an acoustic). I dig T's delivery here; easy, not lazy; smug as a pug in a hug, as opposed to smug as a shrug from a lug.

"The plan is to go to DC and hang out/Go see girls rock."

Mary Timony, Mira and Christina Billotte, Kathi Wilcox, Jenny Toomey. If you don't know these names, learn these names. Then listen to the music. Know the history, so it won't be a mystery.

The song ends with Thurston's wispy recitation of the innocently vacuous queries inevitably posed to the touring musician.

What comes first
The music
Or
The words?

Thank you forever to the smart ass in the audience at SY's show in Seattle on 6/30/06 for screaming out "The words!" right after the song ended. I cannot hear the song without your not-sober attempt at humor blaring in my head. Good job. You fuckin' penis head. That's why Kim told the Portland crowd the very next night that "you guys rule over Seattle." Less yelling dumb shit, more enjoying the music. Quel fumier! (And if you actually do ever read this, don't feel all honored and shit that I remembered you; my memory is so legendarily sharp that I'm pretty sure I remember floating in the amniotic sac.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 17--Shards of Sweetshine)

JUNE 2004


Murray Street was cool, yes, but Sonic Nurse is for the soul-babies.

Ten songs and 62 minutes long (its predecessor was only 7/45), this is a record to spend some quality time with. Some easy laughter, some concentrated conversation, and fantastic food and drink. (Only the finest meats and spirits, please; save the bum wine for NYC Ghosts & Flowers.)

The nurse-centric paintings of Richard Prince adorn the front and back covers of the greatest SY album artwork since Daydream Nation. (For maximum appreciation, please acquire by means deemed most suitable the vinyl. In addition to the added benefit of greater size, the back lacks the terrifyingly ugly anti-piracy label that ruins the CD version.) I'd trust Prince's nurses with my health, but not my secrets.

Get ready for your sponge bath....

"Pattern Recognition"--No foreplay; straight to the raw fuckin'. (Or the sweet lovemakin', depending on how you hear it. Always, always subject to change.)

"Pattern Recognition" is a book by sci-fi demigod William Gibson (or Dub Gib, as we in the drunken bitch trying to amuse herself business refer to him) that addresses the comfort and risk in the need to detect patterns, both significant and trivial. I love that the members of Sonic Youth are such ardent readers and straight up jack novel titles for songs.

Kim our protagonist is "a cool hunter" who will both "know" and "show" us, 'cause after all..."You're the one!" I believe it. I'd believe Kim Gordon if she said Galapagos turtles ran the world with cap guns, walkie-talkies, silly putty, and gallon cans of Hawaiian Punch.

The central riff is a knotty guitar line that nevertheless has some sweet-meat bait attached at the end of it, all the better to leave you reeling, my dears. This is an album-long motif, actually.

Oh, and you hear Steve back there on the drums, that ballast-ic bastard? Get used to that, too.

"Unmade Bed"--In the lax-yet-heavy manner of "Disconnection Notice," Thurston slips into the "caring big brother" persona that made "Psychic Hearts" so affecting. While I find "Unmade Bed" nowhere near the song that was, a crucial element that unifies them is Thurston's decision to speak directly to the suffering girl, with no inkling that he would be interested in ever speaking advisory word one to the dude. Thurston Moore knows a lost cause when he sees it, hears it, or imagines it.

This is the only song on Sonic Nurse to not surpass four minutes, and even then it misses the mark by mere baby hairs.

"Dripping Dream"--Repetition breeds love--or at least, the affection a big sister feels for her goofy fucker of a baby brother. This song used to bug me. I always loved the arrangement: fuzz field to synco-drop to classic riffage, but Thurston's hippie drippings would always give me the "blarghity" face.

I could never, ever skip the song though. The music was so seductive in its surprise, I couldn't deny my soul the pleasure. Then, inevitably....

Howling scriptures to the Mother Earth
O Mother Africa awake yr son
To all the mommas with the money eyes
This kind of love comes as no surprise
Caught shadow
In sex meadow
Little darlings describe the scene
Purring notions of the dripping dream
We've been searching for the cream dream wax
Lathe killers make the meters crack
Caught shadow
In sex meadow
Purring notions of the dripping dream
The kinda girls with the money eyes
Howling scriptures to the Mother Earth
O Mother Africa awake yr sun
Caught shadow
In sex meadow
Little darlings describe the scene
To all the mommas with the money eyes
Purring notions of the dripping dream
This kinda love comes in any size

It was not unlike realizing that far from hating that asshole you work next to everyday, you are in fact so deep in love with them that it's permeated your shoes and is currently mucking up your favorite pair of socks.

"To all the mommas with the money eyes/This kind of love comes as no surprise"

Fucker! I loved those socks! They have Winnie the Pooh sewn into them and kept my feet ever-so warm!

"Caught shadow/In sex meadow"

I think it was the vocal harmonies that did me in, finally, with this. "Sex meadow," just the idea of it, never appealed to me. I've never been one for the outdoor fucking. Way too afraid of inadvertently attracting stray animals with sensitive hearing.

"We've been searching for the cream dream wax/Lathe killers make the meters crack"

I have no idea what this is, but it's forcing me to believe it. Also? Kinda sexy.

"The kinda girls with the money eyes"


Damn you, metaphor for aroused vagina. I resisted you for so long, believed you the opposite of everything I was inside, and you just hung around till I gave in and admitted the truth to myself. And now, the world.

The "That's right/He's gone" parts will never stop reminding me of the theme to Green Acres, however.

"Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream"--How meta. Not meant to be though. As you may know, this started life as "Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream," but fear of litigation prompted the change.

The entire band, for the first time ever, had a hand in the lyrics (whoever wrote "That's what you get when you use a box mix" gets a Snoopy pin) and while the explicit aim seems to be making the future Mrs. Cannon a sympathetic figure, I ain't buyin' it. I mean you gots to woman up at some point. Every time I see A Streetcar Named Desire I yell at Blanche, "Calm down, it's just a dress!" Likewise, "Bitch, take your clothes off before you get in the bath!"

That's why I love this song not for its curious brand of empathy, but for the truculence and serration of the guitars and Kim's vocals, which hearken directly back to her performances on Dirty. (Lee helps out during the chorus, proving yet again that Kim vox plus Lee vox equals KLOX and KLOX is just another way of saying "we should kill time.")

The guitars, as I said, are just gnarlsty. Like the Stephen King short story Grey Matter. Never read it? It's about this alcoholic workman's comp casualty who once upon a time guzzled a can of slimy beer and began a slow transformation into a blob resembling "a huge wave of grey jelly." That's the guitars. They swallowed some fetid gunk and shape shifted into a beast that eats the previously deemed unappetizing.

"Stones"--Unstoppable, this song is. I say, try to stop it! You will fail. Whether man, animal, or apparition, all are helpless to cease this glory of a blaze.

It's anthemic, but not anemic. You won't be joining in synchronized arm-waving amid a stadium crowd or singing along to it on the radio, because it's too deeply felt to be shared so haphazardly. What you will do is ascend a hill, raise your arms and exhort mightily, 'cause the D(d)ead are alive and their message is accessible with patience and compassion. It could come in cryptic missives or simple sensations, but it comes. "We're not gonna run away."

"Dude Ranch Nurse"--Oh Christ, 2004. The end of Baby Bush, Pt. 1. 'Cept we didn't know it was just the first part. We thought a change was gonna (maybe) come. This is the first--and least obvious--of the anti-Prez tracks on Sonic Nurse. I love Kim. Only she could make a "fuck you" to one of the most destructive figures of the 21st century sound like a full-body massage.

The music lopes and loops as she sighs out the sweetest everythings. And ohhh, when that little finger comes up your back after every line in the verses...caught in the lasso, just can't escape.

There's a callback to the echoing desperation of the band's salad days in the extended instrumental break, but like on the rest of the album, it doesn't snap clean through. Not everyone who visits Niagara Falls thinks, wow, I wonder what it would be like to go down it in a barrel. This is awesome, but it would be even more awesome if... Stop right there. Existing amidst exquisite beauty and lamenting is the scourge of modern mankind. Just enjoy.

"New Hampshire"--Steve Shelley never throws his sticks into the crowd--those are his sticks. His beat sneaks up on you, actually, this whole track is deliciously duplicitous. The magnificent rupture into the rapture that precedes the vocals; Kim's slide guitar; and the very inspiration for the song itself, a B.B. King tribute gig attended by one Thurston J. Moore, wherein he was left impressed by the reverence and passion exhibited by guests Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, "the New Hampshire boys." (Buddy Guy, on the other hand....)

Best of all is between verses, when ya get mushed in the face by some hands that had spent the last hour or so pulling around at honeysuckle vines.

"Paper Cup Exit"--So if Lee is the George Harrison of SY, then we can break it down thusly:

"Hoarfrost"="Something" (exquisite masterpiece)
"Rain King"="Only a Northern Song" (overlooked genius)
"Karen Koltrane"="I Me Mine" (searing, gorgeous, but you can only waltz to one of them)
"Paper Cup Exit"="Blue Jay Way"

Ouch. Sorry, LR, but no one bats a thousand, in any league. While I wholeheartedly support the message, all I can think is shit, Sleater-Kinney did it better two years ago. Lee's words here aren't a particularly interesting type of scritti politti, and the music is rote. Also, the fact that lotsa voters didn't seem to mind being slaves after all just makes this an overall depressing listening experience.

"I Love You Golden Blue"--Like watching a loved one, or maybe even the loved one, slowly slip away. Before the color drains away completely, before functions cease and respiration expires, there's the moment when that which animates us, that essence, reaches the pinnacle before continuing on its peregrination. "Is it time to go? It's a place I know."

Kim's voice is barely there and all the more beautiful for it. She illuminates the chilled terror, the hysteria felt whenever caught in that space between awareness and oblivion. "I can't feel the thrill. I don't have the will."

"I Love You Golden Blue" sounds so precious, so fragile. The introductory instrumental feels like a shroud but when it's finally lifted there's just even greater mystery shimmering underneath.

"I don't glitter like the stars above. I don't glow like neon alone. Don't blush. It's just the wind outside. Don't rush to be by my side." They stop it there because they have to. You can't just keep going on like that, shining blinding light on all that which was gorgeous to illustrate how finite it all is. You don't just break someone's heart and steal away their joy, and then stick around to watch them fall apart. There's only one last heartbeat.

"Peace Attack"--And "I Love You Golden Blue" shoulda been that heartbeat.

God. Damn. It. Thur. Ston.

T-man's anti-Dubya turn is clearly inspired by his late hero Ginsberg, but the less I know about who inspired that lachrymose singing the better.

Sometimes, prosaic words make better poetry.

Is it anti-war or pro-peace? Why is "nature sex" in there? Is that like "sex meadow"? Is nature sex what nature kids have? I, this song don't have no function.

Smart move to put the weakest song at the very end. I can just turn it off after "Golden Blue" and be the happiest sad woman in the world, a gracious smile cutting up into my moist face.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 16--Days Spent Catching Magic)

JUNE 2002

Sonic Youth albums have been integral to my survival since 1990. Over the next years I would hear--in addition to the reissued classics--a total of five fresh records, with mine ears perceiving neither drop nor drip in quaity. Then, ten years into my rabid fandom, the band put out NYC Ghosts & Flowers, and for the first time showed signs of pete-out.

My blase reaction hardly iced my bones, however; give any creative individual(s) a decent amount of time with which to work their human magic, and they will slip. Probably also fall. Possibly through the goddamn floor. But if a decade spent listening to the greatest band extant has taught me anything--and it has actually learned me many things--it's that you don't give up, in, or out. You just give.

Sure as sugar, two years later, here comes five pairs of hands reaching out from the gaping black hole, grasping for steady boards to help pull themselves up, to make themselves visible again. Five pairs because Jim O'Rourke had in the interim taken the blood oath. Despite any fan misgivings, SY both wanted and needed his formidable musical and technical presence, not so much to "inject new life" into their sound (whadda cliche) but rather to spin it on its head--yet again. While there was some dread (anticipation?) that O'Rourke's influence would encourage a detour into Whitehouse-style sear-and-slash, the songs on Murray Street had more in common in songs like "Get a Room" than anything on Musique Concrete. Not shocking; despite being vociferous cheerleaders for noisy bastards, the Youth have always--as a group, mind--dabbled in that world sparingly. (A gracious exception is Silver Sessions, which I could not include in my review series as A) the band does not cite it as an official album and B) each song summation would read thusly: "Holy fucking hog maw, this is like someone cracked open my skull with a watermelon encased in a block of ice. And I've never felt more alive!")

"The Empty Page"--Ah, stymier of Styron, but Sonic Youth make you sound so appealing. The "new" sound is made instantly apparent, with strings seduced by a modified "Pavement tuning" so that they fall in a gentle, perching pattern of love and refuse to ruckus till a couple minutes in.

The lyrics remind me of "100%," Thurston this time waxing on a star-crossed woman (mind you, no real-life inspiration for this song has ever been cited; Thurston has made mention only of John Cage's musical philosophy as a trigger to throw out a seemingly-unrelated slug).

Lee joins in for the last four lines. Beautiful fit.

(The band shot videos for two songs off the album, this the first and best, featuring precisely edited footage shot by Chris Habib during the Murray Street tour. You can see me at 0:50 and 1:08. For a full seven years, the fact that I appeared multiple times in a Sonic Youth video was the unabashed highlight of my life.)

"Disconnection Notice"--Many of the songs on Murray Street were presented by Thurston Moore to his bandmates as skeletal melodies that he knew he could flesh out only so far on his own. They fatten 'em up well, but there's still a minimalism here that hearkens to Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.

With one notable difference being Thurston's lyrical maturity. There's nary a "hop hop hop!" to be found. Case in point: "Disconnection Notice" (also known as "Disco Notice" if I'm feeling particularly cute that day). Thurston was moved to craft this melancholy-slathered reflection on the pain of exclusion after his young daughter was deemed inadequate for a particular private school. Turning his instinctive parental upset into calm indictment--even in the face of Lee Ranaldo conjuring up a potent brick-dissolving spell--Thurston bears his heart and soul without being treacly, using wordplay to show and create empathy. Well played, sir.

"Rain on Tin"--September 11th resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and several buildings. Sonic Youth's Echo Canyon studio on Murray Street was one of the feared structural casualties, but the place that SY called home, the building that Jim O'Rourke ran from on that Tuesday morning after a night on the couch, convinced he was living his last moments--amazingly, the studio still stood. Kim Gordon would later tell Filter mag years later that "Murray Street was like our shelter after 9/11." Sonic Youth aver that they do not take matters such as album titles and covers lightly, and Murray Street proves it.

"Rain on Tin" is a solicitous eight-minute embrace.

We all hope
To signal kin
Rays of gold
Now rain on tin
Gather round
Gather friends
Never fear
Never again

Of course there will always be fear. But sometimes things that go without saying need to be said any way. And anyway, there will always be more to us than our anxieties. Love trumps fear, and if Thurston's simple stanza doesn't convince you, the interplay between the three guitars should do nicely. Each section is immaculately crafted, and fits with the next like pieces of a master puzzle. The culmination at 4:50 to 5:03 is almost choral in effect, and demonstrates how terrible a world without light would be.

Leave it to Sonic Youth to assess the damage, collect it, and compact it into a shining cube that can fit into any hand. They aren't a band; they're spirit communicants.

"Karen Revisited"--In the same vein as "Karen Koltrane," Lee Ranaldo immortalizes an ex-lover turned life-casualty in his own ceaselessly fascinating way. ("You smell of memory"; "She's not in your history books/Lost her mind and kept her looks.") When he explains to us just who Karen was/is/ever shall be, the walls open up around him, including the ones human sight can't capture, and the resultant holes emit a squall that just may be a more accurate assessment of the woman than his words--anyone's words--ever could be.

Lee starts to fight the memory of this intense, frustratingly incomplete connection with some forced apathy, and then--the cacophony vanishes from the air. She's turned to dust now.*

"Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style"--A beaut that got off the boat at the first-ever American All Tomorrows Parties festival in 2002, and I was one of the many standing in the audience thinking that no way that song was gonna end up on the album called what Thurston just said it was called.

Thurston's skewed gifts with the letters is at its apex here. (It's like the anti-"Small Flowers Crack Concrete.") He not only traces some stunning figures with alluring angles, he's taken the time to fill them in with rich colors.

"Killer tunes, bubblegum disaster/Radical adults lick godhead style." And if you don't believe 'im, here are the Borbetomagus beast-men to bleat the most obdurate sounds this side of an English ambulance.

You want a powerful message? You want something that genuinely says something? Hope I don't die before I get old.

Note: the official lyrics show "Bells together outrageously." I have always heard the more referential "Girls together outrageously," but that's just 'cause I wanted to. "Bells together outrageously" sounds like a Lee lyric.

Another note: Accomplished Chicago-based music critic/part-time drummer Jim DeRogatis has repeatedly called Steve Shelley "the weak link" of an otherwise top-notch racket-gang. This is just madness Did he not listen to this song? Or the rest of the album? Or any of Sonic Youth's output from EVOL on? Fuck that mess-talk. Jim DeRogatis thinks the salad bar is the weak link of the buffet.

"Plastic Sun"--Another that premiered at ATP LA (what a show that was!) and pretty cute for a trifle. Kim sings Thurston's "pissed woman" lyrics like the champ she can't help but be, but Jim O put the red cape on for this one. His bassline should be some nation's flag. (Possibly Paraguay.)

(When I'm having another one of those "cute" moments, I like to imagine that "Get your hands off my tomato" is a nod to Devo's "Smart Patrol.")

"Sympathy For the Strawberry"--A nine-minute epic that gives ample room for super-mischievous Kim to wrinkle her nose and curl her toes. She's setting limits--then daring the line to be crossed.

"Let me introduce you," she sings to start it off, and it's pretty incredible. Introduce you? This is the last song! Kim's not particularly mindful of listener comfort, however; I don't know if her own comfort is that desirable to her all the time. Complacency=death? Keep your distance, prickly patch, but don't leave her sight. She'll make sure you don't, in fact. Never know--you just may come quite in handy.

Gorgeous sound forever: frazzled, sweet chordplay; barely perceptible keys jangling; one of the most singular people in music history, double-tracked; the tip toes of trespassers who pop open the forbidden fizzy to protect the vines.

And oh yeah--debuted with vocals live at ATP '02. I'd like a time machine right now, one large enough to fit me and y'all in it, 'cause sometimes--lots of times--words just don't slice right.




*Debuted, with vocals, at the All Tomorrows Parties festival on the UCLA campus, on March 17,2002. I was there, maybe you was too. If you were...wasn't that just fuckin' fantastic?

*Lee wanted to rename the song "Karenology," but the album went to press before the change could be made. Tour setlists would feature the revised title. (I like to call it "Madonna, Sean and Karen." You know, when I'm being cute.)

*When Sonic Youth finish up instrumentals, they divvy them out to each lyricist for's to spin their relative gold. "Karen" was originally Kim's, and "Sympathy for the Strawberry" was Lee's. They switched, and the rest is history.

*'80s Southern rapper Gregory D once recorded a song where he castigated many a ho most viciously, by name. "Karen is a muthafuckin' ho!" Yeah! Retroactive burn! But then he went: "Kim is a muthafuckin' ho!" later in the song. Whoa. Watch out now.