Sonic Youth - The Eternal

Matador, 2009
[rating:8/10]

A year abroad on a torture tour of Daydream Nation only shows and this is what you get, The Eternal. A dozen focussed, straight-forward noise-rock, time sliding tunes that clock-in back to 88/89 and maybe even a little later. 10 seconds, 20 seconds, 30 seconds later and it’s feeling good. Opener “Sacred Trickster” hits a 2m 36sec hardcore sprint, Kim leading the charge. The disco high-hat, grunting bass and atomic guitars herald the feet-stamping sexual politics of Kim and Thurston’s “Anti-Orgasm”. Two songs in as many minutes, boasting choruses and fresh blood running through their veins once more, with little Marc Ibold of Pavement in the process to pound down more qualified punk bass notes.

“Leaky Lifeboat” is Thurston and Kim again making beautiful music together as if they were in the kitchen cookin’ brownies. Pulling open the oven and dragging out a tray of “La la la la’s”. Neil Young is all over this record, lurking between Ibold and Shelley’s Crazy Horse patterns, although that maybe my subjective imagination seeing things. Thurston hits the lo-fi pop trail with “TV Antenna” and it’s refreshing to hear conventional song structures take the lead once more. There’s melody in these delectable beasts, but it’s one definitely coated in jam. The expository, exploratory sections that would define/distort (you choose which) a track make their break as a middle 8 and stay there.

For no-nonsense Sonic Youth nuts, this is your new home, maybe your only home for a while. Unlikely they are to repeat themselves with such tasty Matador fares, the next release is bound to be the antithesis of such things, but then, god, I could’ve swore I saw them on Gilmore Girls a year back. Maybe their own kids are calling time on the artistic expression and to write so-cool-songs their friends can relate to. “What We Know” is Lee Ranaldo’s hook-laden inventive rock contribution, but is probably perturbed to see Thurston and Kim beat him to it.

Sonic Youth were experts at sizing up the pack, playing daddy-o to rising new faces and creating their own installation that absorbed these new players, but these days they’re like scenester librarians with guitars, telling tales and inserting faded legends into their tunes. “Poison Arrow” chugs around in a quasi, “Youth Against Violence” way. Just when you expect them to finally throw in towel with a cry of “We’re Not Relevant!”, its back to better-selling basics and the results are winners, each and every one. “Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn” and “No Way” hit the punk rock trail, with tunes invoking  The Germs Darby Crash, the latter a nod to Portland punks The Wipers.

Another ear-friendly 60’s CSNY treat from Lee with “Walkin Blue”. “I’m here to let you know all we need to do is just let go”. He knows we got the walkin blues, so just let the music play. Earlier on, Kim’s “Calming the Snake” is one of those Daydream moments I was telling you about. “Come down to the water” she shrieks, but I’ve never been one to take her advice. But to be fair, you should take this nugget. The Eternal is the best Sonic Youth record the year, this month, this decade. It’s like loving this band from a reservoir that you thought ran dry a long time ago. And I tell ya, had they spent a year touring EVOL or Sister instead, The Eternal would been just as impressive, but in an entirely different way.