Sonic Youth's Murray Street More Than Up to Snuff
Jay Breitling
7/12/2002 9:56:04 PM

"like a risky, fan-alienating ploy by the label to frontload Murray Street with listenable tunes, almost forgettable but for some splotches of beauty "

Sonic Youth’s latest record, Murray Street, tries to sneak by on the first listen while you’re walking to work.

The seven-track record opens with two down tempo brooders, strikingly straightforward in contrast to some of the noise that SY has released in the last five years. The first tracks almost seem like a risky, fan-alienating ploy by the label to frontload Murray Street with listenable tunes, almost forgettable but for some splotches of beauty.

But as with the dog next door once the neighbors leave the apartment, it’s not long before the goddamn racket starts. And this album is as much about glorious racket as it is about the band’s so-called return to writing listenable music.

The real action begins with the mostly instrumental track three, “Rain On Tin.” Here the mix of melody, guitar interplay and noise starts to take effect, triggering flashbacks to SY’s finest recordings, Sister and Daydream Nation. The song breaks into a noticeable sweat as the beat picks up, as if it just chased an unlabeled bottle of pills with a hand full of hot sand. “Rain on Tin” abruptly cools off, but the ordeal has only been a warm-up for the next track.

Fair reader, track four is the reason to plunk down hard-earned dollars for Murray Street. “Karen Revisited” is among the best songs written by Sonic Youth. The proportions are right, with the melodic noise of guitars cuddling up to Lee Renaldo's icy lyrics, which moderate from perplexing to confrontational. Then the song plunges into a tense section of mechanistic guitar drone and noise, and a pulsating guitar bliss-out begins.

“Karen Revisited” encompasses all the best qualities of the band’s music, all in one 11-minute epic. Pleasantly, throughout the record the noise sections retain enough structure and melody to not sound like flat blasts of pretense (three noise discs released between 1997 and 1998, I am looking at you).

Kim Gordon’s first turn at the mic with “Plastic Sun” recalls the title track to 1995’s Washing Machine, but with cheese-grater guitars giving a more affirmative nod to no-wave and no-wave revivalists like Erase Errata. The track is so short it is sort of like a movie trailer stuck in the middle of a feature film, but the blast is so concise it withstands any smart-ass comments directed at it.

The 9-minute closer, “Sympathy For The Strawberry,” is like a car made of candy running out of gas. It boasts a ponderous drum beat that pushes discordant guitar lines up and down gradual hills. Then the snare picks up and there’s Kim voice, angelic and strung out among Stereolab-style organ. The snare grows more demanding, but friendly guitar haze arrives on the scene and draws the whole composition together into thunder claps of crash cymbals and finally away into the horizon.

So just go buy the goddamn record already. It’s that good.


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