Coming off the most accessible album of their career, Rather Ripped, the 16th full length recording from Sonic Youth is aptly named, The Eternal. They have returned to odd timing’s clanging guitars and poetic lyrical workouts, however not all the mainstream sheen is worn away. Tracks like “No Way”, “Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso)” and “Poison Arrow” with its stuttering ending are catchy as all hell, but it is in the extended workouts and blistering punk where the group explodes into euphoria.
“Antenna” is a sweeping dreamscape, hypnotizing the listener into a floating world of mellow feedback, far away women and joyful full-band build-ups. “Anti-Orgasm” showcases the newest Youth with Mark Ibold’s (ex-Pavement) tasty bass runs providing the foundation for Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s battering and scratching guitar work. The sexless dual vocal/grunts by husband and wife (Moore and Gordon) add a sense of robotic seriousness to a track written with Uschi Obermaier, a 60’s model/activist, in mind. The flip side is the quick puncturing-punk-opener “Sacred Trickster” and the screeching grind of “Thunderclap (For Bobby Pyn),” a noise metal clanging ode to Hollywood Blvd which The Germs would be proud of.
Continuing the California crooning is “Malibu Gas Station” updating Kim’s take on female celebrity; Karen Carpenter, Mariah Carey, an S.I. Swimsuit Models have all been addressed in the past. This time, propelled by Steve Shelley’s rapidly fluid drumming, she aims at pop-tart’s who go out, sans panties, to shop for Red Bull at 2am in the 7-11. Both of Lee Ranaldo’s efforts here continue his trend of combining talking blues with extended six-string workout’s an while neither are on the level of “Wish Fulfillment,” both are stout.
Sonic Youth’s back catalog is so varied that comparing a new offering to a past release is almost a requirement so listeners can put things in context. Having flirted with avant-garde classical and pop in the past, The Eternal is somewhere in the middle with a slight lean towards the heavy/noise side of things while still showcasing all the elements that make Sonic Youth such a fascinating group. For comparison purposes, Murray Street is the past SY effort that jumps to mind.
Now off of a major label, The Eternal showcases what Sonic Youth do best, be their own unique selves. Few bands have been as successful and worked as hard to carve their own niche into the world of popular music while staying true to their vast influences by pushing the limits of what it means to be artists in an all-too-fabricated art form. This formation of guitar slingers and feedback wizards never ceases to sound fresh and exciting, even 27 years into existence. Eternally Sonic Youth, eternally excellent