July 6, 2006

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Sonic Youth, Rather Ripped
Geffen, 2006

Brimming with melodic hooks and tuneful choruses, Rather Ripped clearly is Sonic Youth's most song-oriented effort since 1995's Washing Machine. The band lays off its patented amp-decimating rain of feedback squall on more subdued, atmospheric tunes like bassist Kim Gordon's lush "Turquoise Boy," which opens with a dreamy haze of a riff and the bouncy chords of guitarist Thurston Moore's "Incinerate." Elsewhere, "Jams Run Free" features divinely ringing guitar tones reminiscent of early REM or Pavement, "Lights Out," creates a sinister, ominous vibe and Gordon's "Reena" is a straight-up popsong complete with that greatest of Sonic Youth rarities, a reoccurring chorus.

Moore and guitarist Lee Ranaldo rediscover their distortion pedals on requisitely noisier songs like "Pink Steam" and "Sleepin' Around," yet overall Rather Ripped proves a rather subdued affair. This mellower, more inverted Sonic Youth isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it makes for an album less exciting than the Youth's previous two records, Sonic Nurse and Murray Street. Though Kim Gordon turns in some of her most heartfelt and sincere songs ever, her juvenile, come-hither taunts like "Kool Thing" and "Drunken Butterfly" were always edgier. As it is, her laid-back "The Neutral" sums up much of Rather Ripped as the album seems to be stuck in that very gear.

To be sure, the record becomes more endearing upon repeated listens and Sonic Youth remain undisputed crafters of amazing avant-garde guitar rock. Rather Ripped may not be essential Sonic Youth, but it's still far superior to anything on the new Pearl Jam disc. B

— Adam Marletta


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