Sonic Youth

The Eternal (Matador)

Phases & Stages

Sonic Youth

The Eternal (Matador)

Sonic Youth's had very distinct mood swings through the decades – 1980s, noise; early 1990s, rock; the slowed-down melodies of the late 1990s; and the sonic slump that followed in the early Aughties. After nearly two decades on Geffen and three as a band, SY's first album for Matador settles the New York fivepiece nicely into its twilight years. There's a continuation of the muscular pop from 2006's Rather Ripped and a feeling of renewal, as if being free from the psychic torture of a major label has allowed them to embrace mainstream sound on their own terms. Right from Goo-era opener "Sacred Trickster," Kim Gordon says as much: "How's it feel to be a girl in a band? I don't quite understand. That's so quaint to hear." It wouldn't be an SY album without obscure references (Gregory Corso, a cover painting by John Fahey) or lyrics about sex, feminism, and celebrity ("Malibu Gas Station"). The Eternal is a name-dropping nod to the band's influences, something SY's hip factor has always allowed, though in 2009 it feels redundant. For the first time, however, Gordon, Thurston Moore, and sometimes even Lee Ranaldo sing in tandem ("Poison Arrow"), and their riffs have gotten thicker – more Stooges, less extended squall ("Antenna"). The three-guitar interplay, moderated by bassist Mark Ibold and Steve Shelley on drums, is confident if briefly indulgent ("Walkin Blue"), but Sonic Youth reigns in those tendencies for the most part, making The Eternal its most straightforward album yet.

***

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