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Sonic Youth: The Eternal

Sonic Youth: The Eternal

Release Date:2009

By Bret McCabe | Posted 6/17/2009

Add it up: With 15 albums, 8 EPs, 8 SYR Records workouts, and a healthy number of live bootlegs out there spread out over nearly three decades, Sonic Youth has entered its éminence grise era. And over this long/strange trip, Sonic Youth--drum fixture Steve Shelley, guitarist Lee Renaldo (now rocking a touch of gray himself), cool parents vocalist Kim Gordon and guitarist/vocalist Thurston Moore, and new fifth member Mark Ibold, the ex-Pavement bassist who gets to return the patient throb and jittery pulse from his other former act, the definitely SY-ish Dustdevils--has seen no reason to change what isn't broke.

And so its 16th album features the familiar sound/ideas meld, ripe with nods to subcultural icons--the John Fahey painting cover art; "Anti-Orgasm" a tribute to '68 radical icon Uschi Obermaier; dedications to fallen Beats ("Leaky Lifeboat" [for Gregory Corso]") and punks ("Thunderclap [for Bobby Pyn]"); Moore citing Soft Machine's Kevin Ayers, the Wipers, the Dead C, Neu!, and Yves Klein in the liner notes--and familiar washes of gorgeous noise and caressing sneers.

Following the pretty poppy Rather Ripped, though, The Eternal sounds refreshingly unruly, starting off with the two-minute and change rocker "Sacred Trickster." Moore and Renaldo still know how make their guitars snarl--both "Antenna" and the adrenaline-pushing "No Way" riding waves of six-string textures--but it's the Gordon songs that dominate. Both "Calming the Snake" and "Malibu Gas Station" weather squalls of noise backing her seductively guarded rasp, but the epic closer "Massage the History" really clings to the brain. This creeping dirge strings itself out on intertwined guitar distortion, backing Gordon whispering "let's go back to bed" and "bring you back to me." No "Hits of Sunshine" or "The Diamond Sea," this extended lament feels like transcendental ballast, as if the album's title were a sly wink at the Joy Division song that stares down the weight of the long life: when Gordon abjectly entreats "I just wish we could massage/ Hissssssssssssstory," the meaning is opaque, the heartache unmistakable.

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