brent johnson digs up another lost treasure, this week from Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo …
There’s a scene in the film Juno where the title character gets angry at an aging alt-rocker. She tries to insult him by slamming his favorite band.
“Oh, and you know what? I bought another Sonic Youth album,” she sneers. “And it sucked. It’s just noise.”
I know a lot of people who feel the same.
Most music lovers acknowledge Sonic Youth’s influence. They were alternative scene-setters in the ’80s, icons by the ’90s and they are probably headed to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But they’re not universally adored because they’re not always easy to listen to.
I myself hadn’t spent much time with Sonic Youth’s music, but what I had heard sounded dissonant, muddy, and yes, noisy.
Then I saw Lee Ranaldo in concert Saturday.
The Sonic Youth guitarist was on the bill at the XPonNential Music Festival in Camden, N.J., playing songs from his debut solo album, Between The Times And The Tides — a record that arrives with Sonic Youth on indefinite hiatus. (One half of the band, though, was actually on stage Saturday: Steve Shelley mans the drums in Ranaldo’s new touring group.)
Surprisingly, the songs weren’t too dissonant. They weren’t too muddy. And no, they weren’t too noisy. They were melodic, immediately catchy, and at some points, shockingly pretty. Well, as pretty as you can get amidst droning chords, whacked-out tunings and guitar solos played by slashing a violin bow across the strings.
Want proof? Listen to ‘Off The Wall,’ my favorite song from Ranadlo’s stellar new disc. It’s too new to be a lost song, but consider this a preemptive measure: You should hear it before it ever becomes lost at all …
All of this led to me to examine Sonic Youth a little deeper the past few days. A lot of their work was still too dense and loud for me to truly love. But while Sonic Youth will never be mistaken for having the innate infectiousness of Elvis Costello or The Ramones, I learned many of their songs are actually quite tuneful — like ‘Teen Age Riot’ and ‘Hey Joni’ from their 1988 masterpiece, Daydream Nation.
It was a pleasant reminder that nearly every band deserves a second listen.