Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Forever young - Sonic Youth's "The Eternal"

After so much of the weird and the whacky over the past few days, I thought something marginally more mainstream was called for today and, having been inspired by Lee Ranaldo's work on yesterday's album by The Melvins, decided today to go out and buy Sonic Youth's latest album.

The Eternal brings us some good solid rock, but dressed in the unique and interesting garb of sounds that Sonic Youth are famous for creating – keeping the music world of underground rock very much young and alive. Listen, for example, the feeling of tolling bells that ushers in the opening track, ‘Sacred Trickster’, or to the symphony of sounds, the thick electronic soundwaves and the metallic clangs, that punctuate ‘Antenna’ – none of it is exactly new sounds, but it’s all sounds being used in new ways, giving this hard, even heavy, music a feeling of light and life, as if it is waking up in the morning younger than when it went to sleep the night before.

There’s so much on this album that gives you a new take on the old and trusted elements of rock, like the terrific steady pounding beats on ‘Anti-Orgasm’, driven down semitone by semitone, creating a wonderful sense of seediness before eventually giving way to something more gentle and chilled-out. The whole effect leaves you feeling that you’ve just walked down a dark and dingy stairwell into some incredibly cool, and slightly spaced-out, nightclub.

‘What We Know’ is fast and fuming – hard rock with a dash of the tribe mixed in, its pulse so powerful that I think even my two little dogs were nodding their heads along with the beat.

‘Malibu Gas Station’ starts with some lonely, sad almost sentimental pickings on electric guitar, which is unexpectedly swept aside by a solid rock beat, but then is later transformed into its own rock lament, mounting in rage and energy, while you are dragged down by the force of the beat’s undertow.

These are incredibly cleverly structured songs. Even when the music is at its most wild, like in the frenzied bits of ‘Thunderclap For Bobby Pyn’ everything seems balanced and planned and yet it never loses its spontaneity. Listen to the way that song suddenly stops, with one abrupt, perfectly placed, bash that sounds like they all only thought of it all together, all at once.

There’s the swinging groove of ‘Walkin Blue’, relaxed in its own way, and with so many layers of sound that I wouldn’t even begin to try to count them, but then turning your swagger into a brisk walk and then into a furious run, before you even know it has happened. It’s a great way to get fit.

The Eternal finishes with ‘Massage The Storm’, almost ten minutes long, but creating a sense of the epic even more by the vastness of its sounds than by its running time. It does feel strangely like a storm being massaged – something wild and untamed getting lulled, if not exactly to rest, at least into a sense of its own kind of peace. It’s still a storm, and it still has all the force and power of nature rumbling within it. But you feel it’s not going to just blow itself out anymore – it’ll be there, for a long, long time, ready to put on its awesome show for you whenever you need to feel exhilarated. In some ways it’s an apt metaphor for what Sonic Youth seems to have achieved for rock music on this album. It has massaged rock and, in doing that, has kept it eternal.

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