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  Murray Street  
  Sonic Youth  
Release Date:
Reviewed by:

I am the Minion most likely to enjoy Sonic Youth. In fact, for the twang-loving Minions, a band that gets too noisy or distorted is derogatorily referred to as "Sonic Youthy". So be it. Sonic Youth are a sort of dividing line -- either you are with them or you are against them.

I am, nominally, with them. However, they did something that filled me with dread: Jim O'Rourke (who is the anti-PostLibyan, BTW) is now an official member of the band. I am not fond of Mr. O'Rourke: i feel that he ruined Superchunk's 7th album (1999's Come Pick Me Up) and that he kept Sonic Youth's previous studio release (2000's stunted NYC Ghosts & Flowers) from reaching it's true potential.

And that was when he was just a producer. What would happen with him being a full-fledged member of the band?

The answer, surprisingly, is that Sonic Youth have released what might be the best mellow album of their career. And by mellow here i do not mean that this is a Low-like dirge fest, but rather that it has the easy going, slightly melancholy feel of Galaxie 500, Beat Happening, or The Go-Betweens: exquisitely crafted popsongs with precise guitarwork. Not so much of the thrashing of the guitars that Sonic Youth are known for, but with more slowly building, intricate melodies.

It reminds me of some of the mellower moments from 1998's A Thousand Leaves, specifically that disc's Hoarfrost. I am, i have gathered from internet discussions, in the minority of Youth fans in that i like that disc. A lot. It's one of the ones i go back and listen to with regularity.

In particular Disconnection Notice reminds me of Hoarfrost. This song flows right into Rain On Tin, a song with which it shares many similarities. Both are catchy little numbers with delicate guitar lines that spiral and intertwine. Rain On Tin gets a little distorted in the middle, but it is a subdued kind of feedback. That might, perhaps, be the O'Rourke factor. Still, these are two lovely tunes.

Mr. O'Rourke's presence is also felt on Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style. This is the rockingest tune on the disc, and yet it sounds flat. The drumming is muffled, and almost mechanical, and the voice is obviously in front of the rest of the instrumentation. On the plus side, the guitars squeal, and the whole thing moves along at a good pace. I like the song, but it shows the limitation of O'Rourke's production style: nothing every really swells to a loudness that would be preferable in a Sonic Youth number. All instruments are kept tightly reigned in under the level of the vocals. It's as if, when he records, he redlines the voice, and then everything else cannot exceed that level. URGH! Still, it's a good tune despite the limitations.

There is one other song that seems noteworthy to me, Plastic Sun. This is a Kim Gordon song, and it sounds almost electronic. There are strange rhythms behind her voice, almost but not quite reminiscent of IDM-style laptop electronica. The guitar parts are odd, heavily distorted hits that wander trough at random. It's definitely an odd song, and while i can't figure out whether i like it or not, it does at least sound "fresh and new". For a band that's been around 20 years or so, that is an achievement in itself.

On a non-music note, this album features a data track. Specifically there is a screensaver, and a link to a hidden page on Sonic Youth's website wherein album owners can download a few b-sides and a whole series of high-res images of the band. This is a nice thing to do for the fans, and the fact that it is launched from the disc is a nifty way to frustrate people who only downloaded and burned the album. However, well, i have found that if i put the disc into my laptop to listen to it while i am not connected to the internet, this feature crashes the computer. I have to be careful and have the CD player program opened before i put the CD in, otherwise the autorun on this data track takes over, and i crash. Annoying, but i suppose i should blame Microsoft for that, not Sonic Youth. At any rate -- be forewarned when playing this disc in a computer not currently connected.

So, on the whole, this is a pleasant album. Fans of Tha Yoof will be pleased. And if you didn't like their excessive noisiness, well, the O'Rourke factor kind of flattens that out a little, so you might want to give Murray Street a try.

Related Links:
  NYC Ghosts & Flowers, the previous Sonic Youth album.  

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