The show Gilmore Girls always frustrated the hell out of me. The mom (played by Lauren Graham) always failed to connect with me – it always looked like she was trying to think of her lines to me. The show itself had a mildly interesting premise and was usually watchable. Coming from the “Grunge Generation” I was very excited when Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, and daughter Coco appeared on a season finale one year to do an acoustic version of a song from the current album at the time Rather Ripped (You are right – Sonic Youth were not grunge – the single “100%” exploded during the era). I liked the performance and the strange idea of No Wave godfathers appearing on a hit show that appeared on the WB network. I was left with a nagging feeling that I’d just rather watch the incredible Sebastian Bach do his thing on the show. A strange feeling. (In the context of Gilmore Girls and music, strange to think of Sebastian Bach as the steady, workmanlike figure and Sonic Youth as the stars. Sebastian has delivered two back to back masterpieces by the way with Angel Down and Kicking & Screaming)
When news broke in late 2011 that Sonic Youth may have bitten the dust due to the separation of Kim & Thurston most of the attention was focused on the future of Sonic Youth – along with Kim & Thurston’s music future / directions. I wondered what was going to happen with Lee Ranaldo, whose songs on Sonic Youth’s albums always provided a welcome change of pace with a Neil Young type vibe. Steady, talented, and always high quality (like Sebastian Bach’s work on Gilmore Girls). When I finally had a chance to listen to Lee Ranaldo’s first post Sonic Youth release, Between the Times and the Tides. I was blown away by the catchiness (not something Sonic Youth were always known for), warm vibe, and high quality. In other words – I was happy, but I wasn’t surprised at all (though I was surprised that some hipster reviews didn’t like it).
The album opens with “Waiting on a Dream” which starts off with an instantly memorable guitar riff before the entire band kicks in. I am instantly transported to the mid 80’s Sonic Youth era. Noisy, but catchy as hell. Perfect start to this album. 2nd track “Off the Wall” starts off with some noodling before kicking into another full band jam. Very warm feeling with this song, it reminds me of a classic 90’s “alternative” pop single – instantly hum-able and it will bring a smile to your face. Key lyric for me is “See me as I am…”. “Xtina As I Knew Her” instantly has a dark Neil Young vibe going for it (think the Sleeps With Angels album). Ranaldo’s voice is front and center over this musical masterpiece. Is that Crazy Horse backing him up? My goodness, it is so good. Features the key lyric that provides the album’s title “..wanders between the times and tides..”. This song would have worked on any later era Sonic Youth record. “Fire Island (Phrases)” – starts off with incredible guitar riffing before the music breaks down and starts again. It slows down as Lee Ranaldo starts singing…building towards a beautiful pop chorus “Was it something I said?…..”Was I wrong in the head….escaping the truth”. What a touching, perfectly executed song. “Stranded” starts off with an almost Jandek’ish strumming of the guitar before coming into focus. Lee sings really beautifully on this song, his voice is laced with emotion. A calm from the storm, an emotional catharsis.
Honestly, when news broke that Sonic Youth may be no more I felt like an aspect of my teen years was being crushed. Old punks separating after 30+ years seemed to destroy arguments about making it work romantically in the music industry. It probably caused mass confusion among music fans who wore the alliance of Kim & Thurston as a badge of true love’s legitimacy. Life can be funny sometimes. Fortunately Lee Ranaldo has delivered a masterpiece of an album that can make us feel hope and believe in love again.
Verdict: Most excellent
1. Waiting On A Dream
2. Off The Wall
3. Xtina As I Knew Her
5. Hammer Blows
6. Fire Island (phases)
7. Lost (plane t Nice)
10. Tomorrow Never Comes