/ 12 November 2012

From Sonic Youth to musical maturity

Between the Times and the Tides.
Between the Times and the Tides.

Lee Ranaldo – Between The Times and The Tides (Just Music)

Ever since I left school in Durban, Sonic Youth have been a constant in my life.

As a young rock and punk fan, Sonic Youth were a treat: tons of attitude, sidesplitting noise and some great sugary pop hooks buried beneath the ruckus.

My first introduction came through 1998’s A Thousand Leaves, a friend’s copy.

I was exploring their back catalogue, becoming intimately familiar with 1988’s Daydream Nation first, and then 1990’s Goo, 1992’s Dirty and 1994’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.

I have also constantly kept up with their new output, picking up everything from 2002’s Murray Street to 2009’s The Eternal.

So it was with incredible disappointment that I heard earlier this year that guitarist Thurston Moore and his wife bassist Kim Gordon were getting divorced. The husband and wife team announced their separation after 27 years of marriage, in October 2011.

The announcement has raised doubts over the future of Sonic Youth and record label Matador has revealed that plans for the band remain "uncertain”.

I was left feeling rather dejected. This band that I loved and that had been a part of my life for the past 12 years was splitting up. What would a life without Sonic Youth be like?

But relief was on the horizon, with the news that Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ronaldo was releasing his ninth solo album titled Between the Times and the Tides.

Perhaps there was some relief for devastated Sonic youth fans like myself after all?

Sure, Lee Ranaldo was not Sonic Youth on his own, this is the man who wrote such legendary songs as Eric’s Trip and Wish Fulfillment. What's more, his solo album features Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelly, guitar wizard Nels Cline and production guru Jim O’Rourke, a recent Sonic Youth band member.

I was excited!

So what does Lee Ranaldo have to offer in 2012?

Well, online magazine The Quietus describes the album as “a guitar fetishist's dream” and when you hear Ranaldo and Cline dueling guitars on Fire Island (phases) it’s easy to see what they mean.

In between the psychedelic tinges that hark back to 60s bands like The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane; there is some killer guitar work from both veterans.

Closer Tomorrow Never Comes also features some great guitar work, with interlocking psychedelic guitar riffs creating a droning whirlwind of goodness.

Lead single, Off The Wall, is a jangly pop tune that is reminiscent of early REM, other disciples of The Byrds music.

Angles and Lost share these early-REM DNA strands, with Ranaldo’s voice sounding quite similar to that of Michael Stipe.

Second single, Shouts, is a psychedelic country tune that swirls around with gentle guitars ringing out as Ronaldo croons over the top.

It’s an interesting choice as a single and speaks to the level of experimentation happening on Between The Times and The Tides, which somehow perfectly manages to skate the fine line between an experimental and a straight ahead rock record, never quite committing to either, but not really suffering any weaknesses because of this path.

Xtina As I knew Her starts off with some subtle ambient drone, which has some great guitar work, layered over it.

Ranaldo’s voice has that same disaffected aesthetic that Sonic Youth fans will be very familiar with, giving the vocals a detached feeling that works perfectly within the layers of swirling sonics that make up these songs.

Some of the material is not as gripping, like the acoustic Hammer Blow, which is quite forgettable, however, on the whole, the album offers up many riches.

While Lee Ranaldo’s new solo album comes at a good times for devastated Sonic Youth fans like myself, it’s merely a stop-gap measure and could never replace the output of this great band.

However expecting that of Ranaldo is deeply unfair, especially when he has produced an album as consistent as Between The Times And The Tides.

It’s clear that within Sonic Youth, or outside of its confines, Lee Ranaldo has a lot to offer the music world.

For more in-depth album reviews, see our special report.