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Sonic Youth

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When did you stop digging Sonic Youth? When did you stop caring about what the band had to say? Old bands, bands that have been around past album No. 10, always seem a little suspect, as if they’re sticking together because they have nothing else to do. But Sonic Youth has at least been different enough to give everyone his or her own breaking-off point. Music nerds are still divided on which was the last great Sonic Youth album: Daydream Nation or Evol? More forgiving fans stayed ’til Washing Machine. After that, a few folks praised Goodbye 20th Century or NYC Ghosts & Flowers, but at some point, every Sonic Youth listener came to the same conclusion: The band had found a way to make guitar noise boring. Twisting the feedback around such songkill moments as spoken-word interludes, elegies to dead ’60s radicals, and Kim Gordon’s lustful croaking, Sonic Youth forgot that the key wasn’t pleasing the fans of Cecil Taylor but playing real tunes in odd tunings—rocking the math rock. On Murray Street, the band finally gets it right again. Album No. 16 and the second in a planned New York City-themed trilogy, the disc matches its artful noise to songs that catch and jell and show off how forceful and emotional Sonic Youth can really be. The key to the record isn’t the addition of guitarist and producer Jim O’Rourke as a full-fledged band member; it’s the fact that its seven songs unspool without the air of serious calculation. O’Rourke and mainstay guitarists-vocalists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo all wander off in captivating directions—psychedelic sprawls, busy arpeggios, groovy rhythms, and loopy, Morse code-sounding figures. It may take several minutes before “Rain on Tin” or “Disconnection Notice” kicks in with a beautiful hook or two, but when they hit, they’re as powerful as ever. On “The Empty Page” and “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style,” Moore even anchors the tunes with buoyant melodies and lyrics about the art of creating, sounding like Bowie if Bowie were a nice guy. It’s all so return-to-form fabulous that you don’t mind the pair of blow-out sax solos, the way the three guitars can sometimes meander a little too far, or even Gordon’s now-slinky whisper. Because, for the first time in a long time, Sonic Youth takes you somewhere. And that’s been the strength of Sonic Youth all along. —Jason Cherkis