It's been almost a quarter century since a youthful, avant-garde band with cut-rate guitars and an impetus for experimental noise burst into the New York underground, and it's very possible that as its 21st record to date,... more » Rather Ripped is also Sonic Youth's most accessible. Familiar are Kim Gordon's distinctive oral tonality and the tangled sheen of guitar dissonance that plays out between Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. But a majority of the dozen songs are as pop-smart as they come, including a pair from Gordon: "Reena," which ranks among her finest, and a pensive pair ("Lights Out" and "Turquoise Boy") that have the 50-plus singer's ethereal voice recalling a street-worn Francoise Hardy. Ever the whiz kid, Moore ponders religious hostility in the meditative "Do You Believe in Rapture" and skewers promiscuity on the Lou Reed-ish "Sleepin' Around," while Ranaldo's requisite number "Rats"--all futuristic and feedback-heavy--is among his best compositions. As the record fades out with Moore's near-folk song "Or"--the alternative conjunction linking "ready" and "not"--Sonic Youth is as genial as ever: another phase in a punk rock novel that ostensibly has many chapters to go. --Scott Holter« less
It's been almost a quarter century since a youthful, avant-garde band with cut-rate guitars and an impetus for experimental noise burst into the New York underground, and it's very possible that as its 21st record to date, Rather Ripped is also Sonic Youth's most accessible. Familiar are Kim Gordon's distinctive oral tonality and the tangled sheen of guitar dissonance that plays out between Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. But a majority of the dozen songs are as pop-smart as they come, including a pair from Gordon: "Reena," which ranks among her finest, and a pensive pair ("Lights Out" and "Turquoise Boy") that have the 50-plus singer's ethereal voice recalling a street-worn Francoise Hardy. Ever the whiz kid, Moore ponders religious hostility in the meditative "Do You Believe in Rapture" and skewers promiscuity on the Lou Reed-ish "Sleepin' Around," while Ranaldo's requisite number "Rats"--all futuristic and feedback-heavy--is among his best compositions. As the record fades out with Moore's near-folk song "Or"--the alternative conjunction linking "ready" and "not"--Sonic Youth is as genial as ever: another phase in a punk rock novel that ostensibly has many chapters to go. --Scott Holter
"...That's what famed British DJ John Peel would often say about his favorite band, the Fall, and he meant it as a compliment. Despite their many personel changes, the Fall always remained the same--which to Peel meant brilliant. Sonic Youth, who haven't had a signifigant personel change in twenty years (Jim O'Rourke, who joined the band a couple of albums ago, recently parted amicably to persue a film music career), have instead been changing their sound. This has evolved naturally, over the course of their career, as longtime fans can attest. For "Rather Ripped," they've created a permutation even stranger than the experimental noise projects for their SYR label. This is--gasp!--kind of a pop album, with melodies and everything, and even more shocking, it's relatively noise free! Still, it's undeniably a Sonic Youth album, the same way "The Straight Story" was still undeniably a David Lynch movie. Their guitars still chime and hum like you'd expect, even if they only occasionally go "boom." Kim Gordon actually seems to sing here--in tune, no less!--but it's the same Kool Kim we've come to love, not some lame American Idol wannabe. Most of the songs clock in under 5 minutes, and guess what, most of them are memorable. Strangely enough, the weakest song here, "Sleepin' Around," is also one of the noisiest. Nevertheless, with Sonic Youth's trademark odd guitar tunings and well-honed interplay, these are pop songs unlike any you'll hear this year. "Rather Ripped" is psych-pop that even the Flaming Lips couldn't pull off. SY's feet are still on the ground, but the guitars are in the stratosphere. There are moments of such sheer beauty that angels will be screaming in your head for a long time to come.
A closer listening will also reveal the band's experimental tendencies shining right through. "Do You Believe In Rapture?" is built around a minimalist sequence of bell-like chiming. The lyrics are also somewhat edgy, a sly comment on the absurdity of fundamentalism: "stand behind his light of love/hear him yowl his bloody tongue/hear him yell 4 blood and war." It's a rare moment of political commentary for the band, but with a song like this, totally welcome as well.
"Incinerate," which would be an excellent choice for a single, has similarly violent lyrics: "I ripped yr heart out from yr chest/replaced it with a grenade blast..." This one isn't political, however. This is Thurston Moore's idea of a love song! It may be melodic and laid back, but still punk at its core.
Elswhere, it appears that Lee Ranaldo didn't get the memo about making less noise, as his song "Rats" is as gnarled and dissonant as any in the past. This one is just shorter, so instead of a mid-song sonic freakout, the feedback is forced into the verse and chorus. Of course, instead of the monolithic noise of say, the Jesus and Mary Chain, with Sonic Youth it's like a roller coaster careening around your brain pan, shooting off sparks along the way.
Other standouts are the lengthy "Pink Steam," in which the vocals don't start until more than five minutes into the song, using the extended intro for cool sonic interplay. "What a waste" is a raw slice of punk-pop, punctuated with whooshing sheets of vacuum cleaner feedback. The closer, "Or," is a sublime and subtle take on the most cliched of rock album clowers, the tour song: "what time you guys playing?/where you going next?/what comes first,/the music or the words?"
"Where you going next?" could also be about what the band plans for its next act, and even after all these years, it's still something that'll be fascinating to find out."
Some pretty groovy stuff
William Merrill | San Antonio, TX United States | 06/13/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is Sonic Youth's most accessible and listener-friendly CD in quite awhile, but I think the hardcore SY fans will still like it. In the past I was able to appreciate their occasional shrieking experimental noise pieces from an abstract art perspective, but that didn't make for music that I went back to for repeat listenings. On the Ripped CD, the noise and distortion are more directly in service of the melodies, and some excellent melodies there are indeed. I'm particularly impressed with "Turquoise Boy," which features an ethereal vocal from Kim (she and Thurston are as ultra-cool and laid-back as ever on the new songs) and a superb balance between chaos and control. I also like the spooky Doors-ish feel of "Rats," and just about all the other songs are great too. The whole album just has a combination of factors that make it one of the best SY discs ever. (The "fake bootleg" cover art is pretty bad, though.)"
Sonic Youth flexes some muscles....
chasmatic | 06/13/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sonic Youth's 20th studio album, "Rather Ripped," is a grand-slam effort that topples their previous effort "Sonic Nurse". This disc harbors a glorious smattering of smooth, breezy songs that are uniquely Sonic Youth, while also claiming their most accessible sounds yet.
The album opens with the melodious and bouncy "Reena," sung by Kim Gordon (whose voice sounds sweeter than ever before), followed by a similarly tuneful Thurston Moore track, "Incinerate". Both point with big, obtrusive thumbs in the direction this album is headed...right up the old hill.
However, on "Do You Believe In Rapture," you can just feel this high-pitched spaz-noise insanity bubbling just below the surface, yet the song ends too fast (and without climax) and this potential rock-jam-gem leaves the listener panting for something...more.
After a few slightly mediocre songs ("Sleepin' Around" and "What A Waste"), that thirst is quenched in the form of "Jams Run Free," a luminescent Gordon track that beams wildly.
Afterward is "Rats," which is sadly Lee Ranaldo's only vocal contribution to "Rather Ripped". This tune is a jazzy and crawling and evokes the spacious, emotive "Mote" from 1991's "Goo". Tailing "Rats" is the luscious, sprawling "Turquoise Boy" written by Moore and sung by a wispy and tame Gordon.
Later on, the song "Pink Steam" sticks out because of the five+ minute noise-driven intro, followed by little than a minute of Thurston singing. Finally, the album closer "Or," features an almost Southern acoustic guitar and thunderous rhythm section. Ending a highly evolved collection of springy, gentle songs with a primitive one."
Most consistent and exciting in years
T. Brown | Long Beach, CA USA | 06/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Cementing their spot as perhaps the most important band of the last 25 years, "Rather Ripped" is, on its surface, a stripped down, subtler, mellower and more mature Sonic Youth. That all may be true, but there's another world that rumbles below that surface, making this their most consistent and arguably most exciting work since "Dirty".
From the opening chords of "Reena" you know this ain't gonna be no "NYC Ghosts & Flowers" - straight ahead intelli-rock with that unparalleled SY edge. But wait there's more! Kim sings on key (no disrespect intended), as she does with every song on this gem! As always, Steve Shelley shows why he's the one of the finest (if not most underrated) drummers in rock history.
"Incinerate" picks up where Thurston left off with his brilliant "Dripping Dream" from "Sonic Nurse". Very simply a superb song by a superb songwriter performed by the greatest band on Earth. "...Rapture?" follows, leaving listeners wanting more, and finding more with subsequent plays.
"Sleepin' Around" and "Lights Out" are admittedly not quite up to par with the rest of the album, but they're still interesting tracks that invite serious exploration.
And contrary to prior reviews, I say turn up the volume for "What a Waste", a nifty little pop-punk blast that roars at you like Kim's utterly fantastic "Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream" from "Sonic Nurse".
"Jams Run Free" is Kim at her best, breathless and enchanting, while Lee and Thurston create yet another beautiful, albeit minimalist soundscape. Then the signature SY "jam" starts and it's "hang on to your hats" time again. Then again, "Turquoise Boy" may be even better...it's lush, gorgeous and oh-so-very Kim, but with a heaping helping of superb retro noise thrown in for good measure. "The Neutral" may be SY's most straight-ahead pop foray ever, and it works beyond your wildest dreams.
"Rats" shows Lee can still pen unique, yet criminally overlooked little masterpieces ala "Hey Joni" and "Wish Fulfillment". It's perhaps the noisiest track on this album and his visceral poetic sense shines through the sheen of feedback. "Pink Steam," while a stellar track deserving of reviewers' kudos, falls short of an all-time SY classic when compared to soul-rattling instrumental journeys found on "Wildflower Soul" from "A Thousand Leaves" or the breathtaking majesty of "Sympathy for the Strawberry" from "Murray Street".
I'm also going against popular opinion here in saying the closing track "Or" may be my favorite track. Like some kind of long-lost outtake from "Evol" with a respectful bow to their harrowing classic "Halloween", "Or" gave me chills the first time -- and the more than two dozen times since -- I heard it. Stark and unsettling, warm and comforting, the whole mix of low-frequency guitar (including a rare acoustic appearance) punctuated by a respite of ringing, jangly notes, Thurston's mundane-as-art lyrics, and Steve's ethereal tribal drumming is chilling, mesmerizing and deeply satisfying.
Bottom line: "Rather Ripped" stands as testament to the fact no other band on the planet can change its stripes so often with so many exhilarating and memorable results, while maintaining its unrivaled relevance and a "hip" quotient that is off the charts.
Hard for me to root for de-evolution (but not Devo)...
Wounded Knee | Ohio's North Coast... | 06/25/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"To me, the members of Sonic Youth have always been at their best when they have been complex, confrontational and raw, not only with their music, but with their socially- and politically-minded lyrics and wordplay. Although some of their albums in the past decade have been decidedly hit or miss (halves of both "A Thousand Leaves" and "NYC Ghosts and Flowers" were wack), I at least felt like they were trying to engage me on a deeper level when I listened to them as a whole. I don't feel that way about "Rather Ripped," and maybe it's because they've consciously attempted to make more of a "pop" album for their last Geffen effort (because "Dirty" was such a smashing pop success, wink-wink). I don't know that's a fact, but "Rather Ripped" feels a lot like the Afghan Whigs' "1965" to me -- a lunge for the brass ring of commercial acclaim at the expense of the depth of the band's earlier works.
It's not to say they don't pull off many of the pop hooks admirably. "Incinerate" is one of my favorite tunes on the album. And there are some elements of the traditional Youth. 'Pink Steam' is five minutes of guitar cacophony before they even reach the first verse, and 'Jams Run Free' has a fun and welcome Pavement "Wowee Zowee" vibe. 'Or' is a great, wry closeout track with the rare inclusion of what sounds like (gasp!) an acoustic guitar. And even though 'Do You Believe in Rapture?' is weak and aimless, I appreciate the irony (I'm sure I'm reading too much into it) of having a drum machine replace Steve Shelley, who might be my favorite modern rock percussionist. But 'Sleepin Around' and 'Lights Out' feel lyrically and conceptually flaccid, in particular.
This isn't to say that it's a bad or even disappointing album (other than that Lee Ranaldo's songs are among my favorite on most albums, but 'Rats' kind of sucks)... But it feels counterintuitive for me to celebrate what I perceive as a small step away from the things I love in Sonic Youth's 20+ years of back catalogue. Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to seeing them in Cleveland in a few weeks. After all, they're pretty much my favorite band of all time..."