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Pop art for the masses

Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
(Geffen Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 13, 2006
Sonic Youth

Review by Tony Bonyata

It's pretty rare in this day and age where music trends come and go so quickly, that a band can still be relevant over twenty years since their inception, but Sonic Youth are one of the few acts that continue to push the boundaries of what rock music can and should be with their own avant-garde, sonically-charged efforts.
Once again a quartet, after newest member Jim O'Rourke left the band in 2005 to pursue his studies of the Japanese language and film, the band is back to their original 1984 nucleus of Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Kim Gordon (bass, vocals), Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals) and Steve Shelley (drums). Despite the New York-based band 's many releases, their latest full-length effort, Ripped, is actually the closest thing to a pop record that they 've ever recorded. And while purists of Sonic Youth's experimental art noise may at first cry 'sellout,' this collection of twelve melodic, hook-filled numbers still embodies enough of the mayhem, cacophony and ambitious forays into new terrain to please the most discriminating fan of this unique genre.
With an emphasis on structure (even if it's still decidedly left-of-center, as on the song "Pink Steam" where a haunting guitar-line and hypnotic rhythm float ethereally along for over five minutes before Moore's satiny vocals drape over the remaining two minutes of more traditional alternative rock), the band has locked into one of their most cohesive albums to date. Songs such as the catchy Gordon sung numbers " Reena" and "What A Waste," along with the Moore fronted "Incinerate," where the guitars, bass and drums all skip merrily along as if auditioning for Dinosaur Jr.'s 1991 alt-rock template Green Mind, all point towards a band intent on taking their fan-base up from the underground without totally abandoning their edge. Even the maelstrom of noise that reverbs throughout the middle of "Turquoise Boy" is tamed by a sense of tranquil melancholy that bookends the song's short-lived mayhem.
Perhaps the closing dirge of "Or," however, with its droning, repetitive beat straight out of Moe Tucker's early Velvet Underground repertoire and hopeful guitar line that dapples light on this otherwise morose number, is their way of leaving older fans with a taste of their more unconventional leanings.
With sonics and experimentation still intact, although often taking a backseat to melody and song structure for a good majority of this effort, Sonic Youth have successfully created a work of modern pop art for the masses.

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