(7 out of 10)
Sonic Youth returns to an independent label (Matador) and releases its 16th album in a 28 year career and guess what its actually worth your time. The band has been making much ado about its indie return and perhaps it marks a new chapter because Sonic Youth’s run with DGC was largely a forgettable affair post-Dirty. This also marks the first record with Mark Ibold, now a full-fledged member (formerly of Pavement) on bass duties, allowing Kim Gordon to add another guitar to their dense sound and focus on her singing.
The Eternal opens with first single ‘Sacred Trickster,’ a two-minute Gordon-sung stomper in her familiar barking squawk. In it she asks ‘What’s it like to be a girl in a band?’ and responds to herself ‘I don’t quite understand.’ The song’s guitar line bears a resemblance to SY’s ‘Kool Thing’ and its ‘I don’t wanna, I don’t think so,’ but I digress.
No doubt about it, The Eternal is a guitar lover’s album, whether its the band’s signature guitar shredding deconstruction on ‘Anti-Orgasm’ or the meandering surf guitar that drives ‘Malibu Gas Station.’
I think there is a definite attention to detail as far as the vocals are concerned, more so than on previous SY works. ‘Leaky Lifeboat’ and ‘Poison Arrow’ are both standouts with all three vocalists contributing on the same track. Thurston still sounds bratty, Kim’s uh-huhs and yeahs are still croaky and Lee still sounds aloof and lethargic, but isn’t that why we cared about them in the first place?
If you weren’t a fan before, this record probably won’t grab you, but those of you who were ought to be brought back into the fold. Sonic Youth are no doubt elder statesmen at this point and while The Eternal doesn’t mine any new territory, the Sonic Youth brand is still very much intact and they haven’t mellowed all that much.
Sonic Youth kicks off a North American tour with 2 shows at The Vic Theatre on June 27th & 28th and I will be there to report on the 28th, which is already sold out.