Album: Sonic Youth

Murray Street, Geffen

Andy Gill
Tuesday 24 December 2013 03:07

Murray Street is the location of Sonic Youth's Echo Canyon Studio, in lower Manhattan, adjacent to what is now known as ground zero; deprived of access to it for several weeks after 11 September, the group had plenty of time to mull things over before returning to commit these pieces to tape. The result is their most focused, approachable album in more than a decade, since the days of Daydream Nation and The Whitey Album, though it's doubtful whether that's due as much to the terrorist attacks as to the helping hand of the avant-rock omnipresence Jim O'Rourke, now promoted to fully fledged fifth band member.

Though employing much the same battery of scrubbed rhythm guitars, methodical beats and creative atonality as before, these seven tracks sound more organised than usual and seem to possess a more friendly harmonic consciousness than one expects from Sonic Youth. "Rain on Tin" is typical in the way it starts speculatively, with orderly, decorative interplay of guitar arpeggios, then rises to a pitch of dissonant clangour before eventually departing with a polite swagger of pirouetting fretwork. Deceptive restraint is the album's defining characteristic, its harsher passages smuggled in under cover of pleasing chord-structures: tracks such as "The Empty Page" and "Karen Revisited" potter along happily in the manner of early Quicksilver, Velvet Underground or Television, before being sundered by a monolithic single-discord barrage or a shower of piercing high-register shards, leaving gaping fissures in songs that seek to deal intelligently with issues of dislocation and regeneration. Their best album? Sounds like it.

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