Release Date: Sep 15, 2017
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The earnest spirit of Sonic Youth resides within Lee Ranaldo's soul. Yet, it is his heart that he pours out in his first album since 2013, Electric Trim. Yielding the most refined post-Sonic Youth album, Ranaldo discovers a new path heavily influenced by the years of contemplative study of The Grateful Dead. "Thrown over the Wall" charts the familiar territory of space while the melodies expand across the terrain with splashes of vibrant colors.
In the early goings of Jonathan Lethem’s book Chronic City, an ex-child star called Chase Insteadman and his aging, eccentric pothead-critic pal Perkus Tooth listen—at Tooth’s insistence—to American primitive guitar/banjo legend Sandy Bull. Though Bull’s dronings soothe Tooth’s headaches, they grate mightily on the younger Insteadman; that is, until he and Tooth get nicely toasted on a strain of weed called Ice whilst scouring eBay late into the night for rare vases. Something about the night and the drugs and the cheap thrills finally sparks Insteadman’s interest in Bull’s buzzing, proto-psychedelic thrum..
Their split in 2011, enforced by well-documented factors unrelated to the creative process, has at least answered the question of what it might be like if the individual members of the group had pursued solo careers outright rather than simply dabble with their own work in between Youth releases. Thurston Moore toyed with acoustic atmospherics on Demolished Thoughts before returning to his noisy, avant garde roots with The Next Day and Rock and Roll Consciousness. Kim Gordon never really left weirdness behind, becoming part of the experimental duos Body/Head and Glitterbust .
Lee Ranaldo’s follow-up to 2013’s Last Night On Earth features Sharon Van Etten, Oneida drum prodigy Kid Millions, Wilco’s Nels Cline and other assorted virtuosos while its lyrics have been co-written by the author Jonathan Lethem. Given that wealth of talent, Electric Trim is a missed opportunity. The emphasis on meandering acoustic balladry is a real shame.
Regardless of how you define Sonic Youth’s current status – hiatus, endless vacation, break up, whatever – what is unavoidable is that the band stopped working together at the point that they reached a late career spike with both Rather Ripped and The Eternal. So while their demise is indeed lamentable, it has actually opened the gates to more music than we would’ve got if they’d stayed together. And, with drummer Steve Shelley dividing his time between Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo like the offspring of divorced parents, there’s a certain familiarity to be had.
Photo by Alex Rademakers Outside his work with Sonic Youth (if we can brush that off in an introductory phrase), Lee Ranaldo has been many kinds of artist. A guitarist foremost, of course, with now a dozen solo albums, but also a visual artist and a performance artist. He's done some spoken word and written some books in a variety of genres. Ranaldo's exploratory nature lies at the heart of much of what he does, so it's no surprise that his latest album Electric Trim starts in Morocco and wanders about everywhere from there.