album reviews

Sonic Youth
Rather Ripped
Geffen (2006)

New York City guitar gods Sonic Youth have spent the last 25 years pushing the boundaries of experimental rock, with a few forays into a more accessible sound (1990's "Goo" and 1992's "Dirty"). Compared with their more raucous excursions, "Rather Ripped" is almost a pop record, a collection of tightly focused songs that are remarkably straightforward for a band that has championed and influenced such noisy bands as Wolf Eyes and Magik Markers.

Where Sonic Youth's guitars typically sound distorted on long, growing compositions, the songs on "Rather Ripped" are clean and crisp, and most fall at or below the four-minute mark. The result is a kinder, gentler Sonic Youth -- or at least a more conventional one. Guitarist-bassist Kim Gordon, whose vocals usually sound somewhere between disinterested and annoyed, is downright sensitive on the mellow "Turquoise Boy." The heavy spiritual questions that guitarist Thurston Moore poses on "Do You Believe in Rapture?" are even convincing -- no small feat, given the song's not-so-subtle antiwar stance.

"Rather Ripped" is not completely tame, though: "Rats" squeals and growls beneath Lee Ranaldo's creepy vocals. Meanwhile, speedy, chiming guitars and snappy drumming keep the standout "Incinerate" driving forward as if it were destined for mainstream rock radio. And "Ripped's" longest track, "Pink Steam," begins with a frenzied instrumental that features a snarling Moore vocal almost at the last minute. This is enough of the old Youth to reassure fans that the group's edgier, more aggressive sound hasn't been abandoned, just polished up a bit.

-Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 14 June 2006, Page C05
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