Release Date: Oct 8, 2013
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
As Sonic Youth's members explored their individual careers during the band's hiatus, it was fascinating to hear their projects develop. Between the Times and the Tides allowed Lee Ranaldo's more pastoral, mystical side to flourish, and it's in even fuller flower on Last Night on Earth. This is also the debut of Ranaldo's group the Dust, and while two of the group's key players, Alan Licht and Steve Shelley, appeared on his previous album, these songs feel like the work of a full-fledged band.
Back in 1992, nobody had a more drastic freak-out over Throwing Muses becoming a trio than yours truly… save, perhaps, for those immediately involved in the band. What became apparent over the next few years, however, was that this simultaneous paring down and tightening up was also the sound of the band’s balls descending. Thud. Though never short on nerves, Throwing Muses became increasingly lean and muscled – sinewy, even – just in time to disband as a result of financial constraints in 1997.
With each successive release by its former members, the news is sinking in deeper and deeper that we’re likely never going to see Sonic Youth play together again. Yes, the members of the iconic New York band have released an exhaustive catalog of solo material. As fine as those were, we always knew they would truly soar once they linked together again.
As a former pillar of Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo has earned his rock honors. Despite these laurels, Ranaldo should have relegated his latest solo effort, Last Night On Earth, to basement-tape status. Lacking the ferocity of his previous turns, these songs feature little save trite lyrics, tasteless jams and fantastically good engineering. Ranaldo and his band are unparalleled musicians but have fallen prey to a disaster that normally besets younger bands—a great sound and nothing said.
How are you going to spend your time? I don’t just mean this morning or later on tonight, but, you know, eternity? Are you over there somewhere in the hereafter or back some place in the past? What if this was your very last night on Earth, or something more absolute: if it were Earth’s last night, the eve of the apocalypse? Lee Ranaldo is certainly utilizing his time away from Sonic Youth, with Last Night On Earth being his second album in less than two years. While the underground icons of experimental indie/punk/noise rock continue their hiatus (following the split of wedded Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon), the dude some bloggers quip as being the “George Harrison of” Sonic Youth is reaching some comparably superb All Things Must Past-esque heights with his “solo” recordings, aided notably by his group, The Dust: SY drummer Steve Shelley, guitarist Alan Licht, and bassist Tim Luntzel. Much of last year’s Between The Times and The Tides found Ranaldo refining his sensibility for bent-toned beauties into some (mostly) straightforward, four-minute janglers.
When bands break up, there’s normally one member who goes on to make it , whilst the others are left to the dregs of reality telly. N*Sync must be fuming since Justin lost the noodle hair and made the big time. This isn’t the case with Sonic Youth. Since splitting, both Kim and Thurston have gone on to successfully do their own thing, and it looks like original co-founder and guitarist Lee Ranaldo is following suite.
Ex-Sonic Youth guitar virtuoso Lee Ranaldo is approaching two full years since he made the announcement of his seminal alternative band’s at-least-temporary dissolve in November 2011. His first endeavor since then, last year’s Between the Times and Tides, dealt in stories about peripheral characters and scenes from throughout his life, ones that he never had the opportunity to slow down and consider up to that point. Times and Tides was a straight account of a now 57-year-old Ranaldo’s first reactions to seeing the world through a lens he hadn’t had access to since he was 25.
Atoms for Peace recently appeared on “The Daily Show” to play a couple of songs. Thom Yorke and Flea also sat down for an interview, and Jon Stewart posed a common question about side projects: “Within your bands, is there a sense of like, ‘Oh, do you not love us anymore?’” Yorke reported back, “I think it’s all healthy, right? It’s all healthy to free range a bit.” And while Yorke’s current project hews relatively closely to the sonic aims of Radiohead, others depart more sharply from their main gigs. Such is the case with Lee Ranaldo’s latest, Last Night on Earth, a meandering, elastic record—and a side effort that will be lost on most Sonic Youth fans.
When I first started listening to Sonic Youth, I always pegged Lee Ranaldo as the “weird” songwriter of the group. His SY songs were always the most jarring ones on their albums, often a nice breather from the back-and-forth between Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon. Therefore, it was a bit of a surprise to me when Ranaldo made the first new post-Sonic Youth record of the three with Between the Times & The Tides: Here was the weirdo behind “Pipeline/Kill Time” and “Skip Tracer” playing fairly conventional guitar rock as his first real statement as a solo artist.
Lee Ranaldo was always the “Mr. Inside” of Sonic Youth, as much an architect of the band’s blinding, sheets of feedback guitar sound as Thurston Moore, as much a visual arts synthesiac as Kim Gordon, as offhandedly knowledgeable about pop and experimental music as either of them, but not as quick to the spotlight. Here in his second album with the Dust – that’s fellow SY vet Steve Shelley, Alan Licht and, this time, Tim Lüntzel on bass – Ranaldo makes a quiet claim on that band’s legacy.
We might as well face up to the truth; Sonic Youth are surely finished. Kim Gordon partially elucidated the circumstances surrounding the breakdown of her marriage to Thurston Moore – and subsequent state of hiatus for the band – in an interview with Elle magazine earlier this year, and the current situation – desperately sad as it is – would surely render any kind of working relationship between the pair untenable. With the now-unfortunately titled The Eternal likely to be the final new Youth release, solo projects – three of which have already been launched in earnest – are going to have to suffice.