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Sonic Youth “Rather Ripped” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , .

Once a mere footnote in a monolithic, vibrant art-rock scene, Sonic Youth now not only own the scene but have the power to adopt bands, tour selectively and afford whatever luxury an aged musical patriarch might want. But at what point in time did the band go from yet another voice in the crowd to an icon? Some say the moment the band recorded its first album, Confusion is Sex, in 1983. Some say it was marked by the 1988 release of Daydream Nation, questionably the band’s most acclaimed album. Personally I own a belief that the band reached such heights when any given music fan, who wasn’t completely oblivious to music found outside of classic rock radio, could hear a song for the first time, without knowing who was playing it, and upon listening to the first few chords, they would know that it was Sonic Youth. Such an ambiguous point in time, one that is different for everyone, yet that moment perfectly captures the band’s fame. For me that moment fell somewhere in 1998, around the time of the release of A Thousand Leaves. It was that year that Sonic Youth morphed from merely being hip to the level of icon. Or was it 1983?

And as the years passed Sonic Youth became one of the bands that I could consistently listen to and feel like I too was apart of something special, something unknown to many though being fully apparent and glorified by so many more. While the band followed with a number of strong releases it is Rather Ripped that re-admonishes me, reminding me about something special that I was beginning to forget about.

Granted, Rather Ripped doesn’t follow a mold or a routine typical of the majority of the group’s albums. While there aren’t any lengthy 15 minute trips through reverb with makeshift pawn shop guitars, there is “Pink Stream” which takes the roll of a heroin jam band-routine rather than diving into the depths of oft-repeated territory.

Adding an additional measure of worth, Rather Ripped boasts the strongest three song set I’ve heard on a Sonic Youth album in some time, “Reena,” “Incinerate,” and “Do You Believe In Rapture?” The songs combine a unique touch of the classic fast paced strum with an untouchable level of toned down maturity. “Incinerate” offers a catch so sweet it becomes almost bitter; how can this be the same band that I thought I knew so well? Sonic Youth doesn’t record songs like these. Where’s the ubiquitous shredding and seductive growls?

They may not be gone for good, but for now, there’s something else going on with the band; either years of musical experimentation have caught up to the band’s music or the music that has eluded the band for so long has finally caught up with the band. In all fairness it’s probably a little bit of both.

As the album’s first lyrics slip out of Kim Gordon’s mouth, “You keep me coming home again,” I too have remembered what continually pulls me back to a band that seems to elude obsolete mainstream cowering; that being the band’s ability to reinvent itself without having to change a thing. The album shows growth, the album shows a different, unique textured sound that is unlike much of the band’s past recordings, but when you listen real close, it’s still Sonic Youth. And Sonic Youth is still amazing.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]