Artist: Sonic Youth
Label: Matador Records
Due Out: June 9th
Of all of the artists we've reviewed at Animal Noises, I'm pretty sure that Sonic Youth has the most extensive catalogue by far, so my apologies in advance, if I somehow do not do The Eternal justice in the scope of their work as a whole. The band's 15th album to-date, The Eternal marks a change of sorts for the noise rock and no wave pioneers. For anyone disappointed with some of their more recent efforts, I can assure you, you will at least be pleased with the direction this album takes. Back are the noisy backgrounds and angst-laden yells of the 80s. The record has an attitude I have not seen from the band in quite awhile, so for those following along since the beginning, perhaps this one's for you.
The album starts out with the heavy and choppy "Sacred Trickster". Many may remember the track from about a month ago, as Kim Gordon remains unabashedly herself in this allusion to 1988's Daydream Nation if I've ever heard one. Next, "Anti-Orgasm" does a nice job melting together aspects of classic rock, noise and post-punk, as Thurston Moore and Gordon trade-off jabs amidst a background spiraling out of control as the song progresses. There's an eery quality here, a bit nightmarish to be honest, but that mood is usually displaced by the loud and frequent breakdowns which comprise the track, at least before it settles down. "Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso)" changes things up a bit right afterward, mellowing out, at least by Sonic Youth's standards, toning down the noise in the background for a much more basic guitar riff and percussion exchange. Though coming off as inherently grim, the song does seem a bit bright at the same time, bouncing along for the most part, in a surprising development.
We then turn our attention to "Antenna". Taking the calm, reserved nature of the previous track, this one tends to skip along at the onset before opening up to a gruff, yet open mid-section. Though there's plenty of noise contained within this song, it's extremely controlled, and is almost relaxing in nature. Whatever somber feeling you may have been taking on however is erased within seconds of the beginning of "What We Know". Jungle drums, and a thick guitar part have this one pulsating as it gives way to some light soloing later on. Once again afterwards though, we are seemingly slowed back down, this time with "Calming the Snake". This can be seen as somewhat of an allusion within seconds- squealing guitars and a burst of vocal energy break through the uneasy quiet, and Gordon's voice carries the remainder of the track above the steady drum part in the back. Next, "Poison Arrow" finally takes energy from a preceding track effectively, and mixes a bit of a pop guitar part with the feeling you're being put through a wood chipper. Both sounds give way to toned-down vocals by Moore, with contributions from Gordon, and the track runs on the same progression for the final minute or so.
"Malibu Gas Station" creeps in initially, before picking up the pace and peaking your interest. Still, Gordon's display of a partially-reserved approach, along with a sound that seems caged in until the very end, gives off a sense of the song operating in a box. "Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn)" resolves this issue, by utilizing Sonic Youth's best tool, quickly contrasting volume and intensity to create a more meaningful effect, and a fun and electrifying track to boot. "No Way" does a great job of carrying this momentum forward, pushing the tempo with an active and engaging guitar part that does wonders for the track. Next, "Walkin Blue" embraces alternative rock more than any other track on the album, mapping out a direct and defined course, yet still peppered with solos. There's a lot going on here, but not how you'd normally expect from the band. Each instrument stays confined to its respective role, and you hear the instrumentation doing much more to work with the other aspects than against. The album ends with its' longest track, "Massage The History," clocking in at nearly 10 minutes. Seemingly mixing the wide array of noises you've heard throughout the record, it works to sum up The Eternal, the mellow aspects, the louder one, the organized and the more disorganized, all together into one final thought.
Of all of the albums I've heard this year, this has been one of the most difficult to judge. I heard everything I'd want to hear from a Sonic Youth record, I suppose, but I can't help but wanting for something more. Some songs seemed a bit too reserved for a band that worked to define noise. However, others jump right out at me, and bring me back to their earlier sound. Both Moore and Gordon had their brighter moments, as well as instances when a bit more intensity could have worked to their advantage. It was less of a wall of sound, and more of an album in a box, which is to say that they seemed to fence themselves in here, much to my dismay. Still, a solid album that can definitely grow on both longtime fans and new listeners over time. For similarities, I'd recommend Dinosaur Jr., Pixies and Yo La Tengo.
Best Track: "Anti-Orgasm"