Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Sonic Youth

Rather Ripped (2006)


The trouble with Sonic Youth, if there is one, is that they are a rock critic's band; their albums are awash with allusions to obscure art-punk and odd art forms, their sound is noisy and difficult, and their songs are delivered with the self-aware reflection of kids with too many records, and yet despite that, they've delivered a succession of progressive, confounding and remarkable albums; from the twin classics Goo and Daydream Nation to their ironic tribute to radio rock on Murray Street, they've maintained an air of quirky cool for nearly 25 years.

From Thurston's dry whispers, to Kim's sexy sneer, the washes of noise and beat-up Converse sneakers, Sonic Youth has always managed to be hopelessly idolized and relatable at the same time, and yet the band has always proven difficult to understand for mainstream audiences. Sure, we can all talk about their majestic use of distortion, but it always ends up with the non-geek asking "why the fuck is he hitting his guitar with a screwdriver?" Well, with Rather Ripped, the band has finally delivered a record with enough to geek out the most jaded music critic, and simultaneously produced a record that is the most immediately accessible and tautly written in a decade.

A record with a concept, Rather Ripped is Sonic Youth's attempt to shoehorn their sound into tight four-minute songs and manages to succeed admirably; the opener "Reena" sounds like Jets to Brazil gone shoegaze, and that is definitely a circular comparison you're bound to run into. Just as Schwarzenbach's Jets took Jawbreaker and ran it through a Sonic Youth machine, Ripped independently reaches the same conclusion. Tracks like "Do You Believe in Rapture?" and "Lights Out" are designed to have you staring at your shoes.

That's not to say that the band has abandoned their facination with noise, just coupled it with a little restraint; while "What a Waste" begins with a note of squealing feedback, the track doesn't spend two minutes in instrumental noise as it might have a few years prior, instead the band layering the bursts of noise over Deal's chorus.

That said, the highlight of the album is still perhaps its longest track, the nearly instrumental "Pink Steam," a track which couples some thick distortion with a strong harmonized lead guitar melody and spends most of its running time without a vocal. The similarly ambitious "Turquoise Boy" takes the classic Sonic Youth approach, building slowly before delivering a explosive crescendo.

A band that has managed to be a peer of the Replacements and Nirvana and an influence on everyone from My Bloody Valentine to Mono doesn't need more praise and acclaim, but with Rather Ripped they certainly earn it.