Release Date: Jun 9, 2009
Record label: Matador
There was speculation that Sonic Youth might use the opportunity of being on an indie label again to go even further into experimental territory. But the opposite has happened on The Eternal: the band's put together one of their more accessible albums, full of immediate thrills instead of drawn-out weirdness. [rssbreak] As strange as it sounds, The Eternal feels very much like a greatest-hits collection.
While there's a little bit of almost everything that has made Sonic Youth great over the years, the band hasn't put these elements together in precisely this way before. Considering how expansive their last few albums for Geffen were, The Eternal's relatively concise songs also set it apart, but when Sonic Youth do stretch out, it's with purpose. "Anti-Orgasm" begins as a duet/duel between Gordon and Moore, who trade challenges and come-ons over free-falling guitars that become a rolling, slow-motion excursion; the track's instrumental interplay is more violent, and more sensual, than its words.
Bristling with impetuous energy, The Eternal might have been recorded by a bunch of pups who weren't even born when Sonic Youth released their debut in 1982. There is an excitable, almost naive quality to its visceral riffs and enthusiastic name-checks of artists, poets and countercultural figures. When Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon yelp "anti-war is anti-orgasm!" over thrusting guitars and sledgehammer drums, they sound like teenagers plotting revolution while listening to a Stooges album stolen from their parents.
Sonic Youth's sixteenth studio album The Eternal is a landmark release that sees the band returning to its indie label roots. To celebrate its release, we're posting a handful of reviews from various members of the No Ripcord team. Chris Conti: “I think the Matador record shows us in an excited and newly liberated state of play,” Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore told Stereogum.com back in April while discussing The Eternal, their sixteenth full-length album and first for hallowed indie Matador Records.
Inspired by everything from the MC5 to Yves Klein, from activists to poets, from Canterbury to at least one celebrity vagina, The Eternal is Sonic Youth’s 16th album, and its first for big-indie imprint Matador. Forcing together these seemingly disparate influences and others, many of which are dead or dying, the NYC rock veterans end up pondering things you might expect a band forging into its 29th year to ponder. Life.
Review Summary: A change of scenery label-wise prompts Sonic Youth to create their best album in years. I revisited Daydream Nation the other day after enduring seven months or so without listening to the album, and I was astonished by how fresh and modern it sounded. “Teenage Riot”---still Sonic Youth’s best song---sounded weirdly recent, as did “Candle", as did (mostly) every other song and album in the rest of the band’s canon.
Three, truly, is a magic number. When I look back on Sonic Youth’s extensive catalogue, spanning nearly three decades—and about as many indie generations—at this point, I see a penchant for trilogy. If Sonic Youth, Confusion is Sex, and Bad Moon Rising sum up the early years, then what followed—Evol, Sister, and Daydream Nation—is clearly the holy trinity: dense, sprawling unions of noise and art that remain essential not only for the movements they defined but for the influence still potent today.
At the height of grunge, Sonic Youth awed me tremendously with a dismissive guest singles round-up for a now defunct UK music-monthly. “I’ve heard this riff a few times before…” sneered Thurston, or maybe Lee, and finally chose some now-forgotten band (60 Foot Dolls?) as the pick of the litter. Who are these walking riff-encyclopaedias? I wondered, at the time.
The Eternal, Sonic Youth's 16th album, has nothing to hide. Its strengths and weaknesses are all upfront-- in fact they're pretty well encapsulated in the first two tracks. Opener "Sacred Trickster" is a quick, adrenalized rocker in the vein of 2006's similarly straightforward Rather Ripped. Slamming to a stop after a tight two minutes, the band then tears into "Anti-Orgasm", exploding into biting noise halfway through before the song eventually drifts into beatific, instrumental wandering.
Long considered the indie-schmindiest of them all, Sonic Youth have, on their 16th album, returned to ?an actual independent label after nearly two decades. In celebration of that fact, perhaps, The Eternal offers a sort of survey course in SY history, careering from their early art-school ?atonality to the more melodically sophisticated compositions of later years. The problem is, none of it looks forward; in spelunking through the past, the band seems to have forgotten to ?unearth anything new.
S till here? Still niggling away at the art/ rock interface? Still sounding like an evening in your company will encompass discussions of Yves Klein and Lindsay Lohan? Check, check, check. But still cool..
SONIC YOUTH “The Eternal” (Matador). No Sonic Youth record boils down to a single imperative. Each one is hard to reduce. They’re all mixed up. They’re about songs, and they’re not; they’re about improvising, and they’re not; they’re aggressive, and they’re not. This is a band ….
People seem torn about The Eternal. It’s surprising to find Sonic Youth albums ‘divisive’ at this stage in their career, just as they’ve settled into a kind of twilight wisdom. But recently there’s been some complaining about their general ‘not avant garde-ness’ and their hegemonic status in the alterna-indie world, alongside the usual hosannas thrown toward every Sonic Youth album that isn’t NYC Ghosts and Flowers (though I’ll happily argue that’s one of their most under-rated and under-explored records).
Sonic Youth's had very distinct mood swings through the decades – 1980s, noise; early 1990s, rock; the slowed-down melodies of the late 1990s; and the sonic slump that followed in the early Aughties. After nearly two decades on Geffen and three as a band, SY's first album for Matador settles the New York fivepiece nicely into its twilight years. There's a continuation of the muscular pop from 2006's Rather Ripped and a feeling of renewal, as if being free from the psychic torture of a major label has allowed them to embrace mainstream sound on their own terms.