"Rather Ripped" (Geffen; 2006)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

Let’s get to the point, shall we? “Rather Ripped” is remarkably accessible, almost ‘pop’ in its final form. This is a far step from the  “Daydream Nation” that I am most familiar with given my limited knowledge of Sonic Youth's expansive catalog.

The musical highlights are many. Lacking keyboards, “Rather Ripped” obviously focuses on guitars and melodies which harkens back to their origins and roots. Discernible vocals from Kim Gordon are a highlight as well. Guitarists Moore and Renaldo continue to use their guitars in every fashion imaginable – although this time around it might take a little more work to hear their inventiveness, or at least understand exactly what they're doing to achieve their sound.

Sonic Youth are not quite the pinnacle band for the typical Rough Edge set, but you can never go wrong with the creative forces harnessed by the band even in this alternative form. In the end “Rather Ripped” is captivating albeit a bit mellow.

“Rather Ripped” was produced by Sonic Youth with John Agnello.

Sonic Youth is Kim Gordon on bass and vocals, Thurston Moore on guitars, Lee Renaldo on guitars, and Steve Shelley on bass.

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"Sonic Nurse" (Geffen; 2004)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

I knew Sonic Youth was prolific but I was surprised to find out that "Sonic Nurse" was the band's nineteenth album. My experience with the band up to "Sonic Nurse" has been limited to "Daydream Nation" (1988) and "Dirty" (1992). But my recognition of Sonic Youth as long-standing critic favorites at least had me prepared for a band that was as strong today as it was back in the late '80s and early '90s.

Although most of the album is pretty good, there are three songs are worth going into for the purposes of enlightening the masses about the overall scope of "Sonic Nurse." The mellow intro of "Stones" is infectious – it makes me wish there were a lot more songs like this on the album and in the Sonic Youth catalog. "Unmade Bed" starts off with a beautiful, near-dreamy melody but soon slips into a semi-nightmare when the band pushes the sound of the song into their trademark noise territory. I guess my memory is telling me that a lot of Sonic Youth's earlier efforts where almost for the sake of new techniques (playing and recording), but that doesn't seem to be the case on "Sonic Nurse" (at least it doesn't sound so obvious anyway). "New Hampshire" seems to indicate the influence of the band's newest member, Jim O'Rourke, which isn't a bad or a good thing – it just is.

While I am unable to offer any insight or perspective as to how "Sonic Nurse" fits into the band's vast catalog I can say that the album marries comfortable rock idioms with progressive/alternative leanings that makes for an engaging listen. Sonic Youth seems to stretch out a bit more on "Sonic Nurse" than "Dirty" (my only true recent aural experience with the band). This means fewer, but longer, songs – quite frankly I think Sonic Youth are more suited to the longer exploratory styled songs on "Sonic Nurse" than the pop-leaning ditties I heard on "Dirty."

"Sonic Nurse" is an intriguing album. Based on my limited knowledge of the band and what I can remember about their musical history I think many of the band's longtime fans will appreciate their latest effort. Generally speaking, though, most fans of hard rock and heavy metal will not like Sonic Youth of any era. However, fans of hard rock and heavy metal that appreciate experimental music would probably walk away from a listening experience of "Sonic Youth" with a few new ideas on how to approach song-writing.

"Sonic Nurse" was produced by Sonic Youth and mixed by Jim O'Rourke. O'Rourke's inclusion as the band's fifth member and studio artisan seems not to adversely affected the band – hell, the original members would have kicked him out by now, right?

Sonic Youth: Kim Gordon on bass and vocals, Lee Renaldo on guitar, Thurston Moore on guitar and vocals, Steve Shelley on drums, and Jim O'Rourke on keyboards.

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"Dirty" (Geffen; 1992)

Reviewed by Christopher J. Kelter

I was never much of a fan of alternative music, but since I was a fledgling guitar player (way back in the day) I was smart enough to read most of the guitar magazines that catered to struggling musicians like myself. As you may very well know, these particular magazines typically featured a section on album reviews that centered on a guitar player’s point of view and concern. Consequently, I was always aware that Sonic Youth were critical darlings and praise for their work as musicians pushing boundaries of guitar playing was nearly universal. I did manage to hear Sonic Youth’s “Daydream Nation” in the late ‘80s shortly after its release. Needless to say I was impressed, but not to the point of where I ever thought it necessary to purchase Sonic Youth albums.

For the purposes of preparing to review Sonic Youth’s 2004 release “Sonic Nurse” I purchased a used copy of Sonic Youth’s 1992 acclaimed effort “Dirty” on the recommendation of a friend. As far as I can tell, “Dirty” is an amalgamation of the band’s vast influences and styles. Throughout the fifteen tracks on “Dirty” the band pushes the loud/soft dynamic, bridges both the shorter ‘pop’-styled songs and longer more experimental tracks, and finds balance between melody and sheer noise. “Dirty” ebbs and flows between beauty and ugliness and hits all the spots in-between.

While I don’t mind the occasional dissonance in the band’s caterwauling guitar lines, the atonal vocals can get a bit irritating. Again, while I can’t speak for the band’s catalog, it’s the vocals that probably kept me from buying Sonic Youth albums all the many years (and this coming from someone who fully appreciates and defends the classic ‘growling’ vocal style).

I’ve gone on to learn that long-time fans of Sonic Youth consider “Dirty” to be the band’s least inspired album. You could have fooled me – there’s a lot to like about it. While “Dirty” won’t ever approach being a favorite album of mine, it is something that I will enjoy from time to time. The fifteen tracks collectively approach an hour in length which leaves a lot to absorb, but Sonic Youth makes it interesting all the way. 

“Dirty” was produced and recorded by Butch Vig with Sonic Youth. Mixing was done by Andy Wallace. Sonic Youth teaming with both Butch Vig and Andy Wallace is an impressive package.

Sonic Youth: Kim Gordon on bass and vocals, Lee Renaldo on guitar, Thurston Moore on guitar and vocals, and Steve Shelley on drums.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright © 2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 05 Sep 2023 21:55:32 -0400.