Sonic Youth is no more, and it’s a hard reality to face. Like Death, Taxes and Allergies, Sonic Youth just seemed like one of those things that would always be there. Innovators, musical pioneers, creators of their own beautifully distorted sound. The band that did it on its own terms, and turned the world into something new. If a friend asked you, “Hey friend, what’s indie rock sound like?” you would be okay with naming any Sonic Youth album. (Me, I’d give them Daydream Nation, the first “indie rock” album preserved in the Library of Congress. If you’ve never heard it, please stop right now, leave this review open in a tab or something, and follow this link. You can come back when you’re done picking your face up off the floor.)
Alas, Thurston and Kim had other plans, and Sonic Youth is no more (for now). What is the band, and the world, to do? Luckily, Lee Ranaldo kept busy. We may never hear a new Sonic Youth album, but on March 2o, we’re being given the next best thing: A new solo album from the band’s guitarist–an album that sounds like a new Sonic Youth album if you squint your ears a little.
That’s not intended as a rip in any way. Hell, I’ve lost count of the number of bands who’ve been trying to make a new Sonic Youth album. And it’s not to say that it sounds like any Sonic Youth album we’ve heard yet. Ranaldo isn’t afraid to take his “art-guitar music” in different directions than his former band dared, including flirting with straight country on the track “Stranded” (and to a lesser extent on “Hammer Blows”).
“Hammer Blows” Live
In fact, the whole album feels like Ranaldo is playing in the Sonic Youth sandbox of sound, stretching his signature soundscapes and guitar wizardry in any direction he cares to explore.
The first track on the album, “Waiting On A Dream,” sounds like vintage Sonic Youth, a track that would’ve been solid on just about any of the group’s albums. Having Steve Shelley doing the drums for this album helps all the songs on Between the Times and the Tides maintain that Sonic rhythm. On tracks like “Shouts” and “Off The Wall,” Ranaldo adds a female vocalist, but more as another instrument than the true back and forth Thurston and Kim cultivated so well.
“Fire Island (Phases)” incorporates a slew of guitar sounds, including a very country-sounding slide that melts into microtonal notes and straightforward lyrics before it disintegrates and recombines. The seventh track on the album “Lost (plane t Nice)” sounds more Dinosaur Jr or Sebadoh than Youth. It also happens to be one of my favorite tracks on the album.
“Lost (plane t Nice)” Live
Yet its tracks like “Xtina As I Knew Her,” “Hammer Blows,” and “Stranded” that we get to hear what makes this solo album so different than Ranaldo’s work with Sonic Youth. Its the way this album feels more like a personal statement than anything we’ve heard previously. Like Ranaldo’s been keeping these songs bottled up all these years, and is finally letting them free, without the pressure of releasing them under the flag of Sonic Youth.
“Xtina As I Knew Her” Live
Between the Times and the Tides is not a commercial album; no single from it will break the top 20, though I think it’ll do pretty well with people who watch what they put into their ears. You won’t hear it pumping from every frat and dorm room, and its videos won’t get a billion hits. I think that’s ok with Ranaldo. After all, he didn’t make this album for you or me. He made it for himself. And it’s a pretty damn fine album regardless.
Is it a good album? Sure, without a doubt. Is it great? If you really like Sonic Youth, and can get behind the majority of Ranaldo’s choices on the album, then maybe. It’s certainly an authentic-feeling album, crackling with sincerity and freedom. I think I might be able to deal with Sonic Youth breaking up if this man can keep these albums coming. He’s definitely setting the bar pretty high for the rest of his ex-bandmates eventual solo projects.
I recommend grabbing “Waiting On A Dream,” “Xtina As I Knew Her,” “Lost (plane t Nice),” and “Hammer Blows,” and giving the rest of the tracks a listen or two on the Rolling Stone stream. Be warned, results with this album may vary from mild euphoria to hallucinations and possible addiction. Because you can listen to the whole thing now for free, you have no excuse not to give it a try.