Lee Ranaldo’s back for round two, coming on the heels of his very successful post-SY debut record. It’s not actually his second record; a quick perusal of Discogs shows that there are at least eight solo records that predated Between The Times & The Tides and at least as many more projects involving other musicians. But the records after Sonic Youth split (nothing officially stated to that matter, but it seems really outside the realm of possibility to see them back together at this point) are quite different – no fractured noise or abstract sonic ventures, just really tight songwriting. Not that Ranaldo didn’t toss in the occasional earworm tune onto various SY records (cf “Skip Tracer,” “Wish Fulfillment,” “Rats,” etc) but like his long-running cohort Thurston Moore, when it came to recording under the surname, splatter and scrawl was the mode of operation.
Even though they’re labeled as “The Dust” now, the band remains the same: the ever-present Steve Shelley on drums, Alan Licht on guitar, and Tim Lüntzel on bass. It’s absolutely no surprise that Shelley and Ranaldo are in sync all the time, but the rapport with the rest of the band is obvious. It’s also a bit jarring to hear Ranaldo working with a bass player like Lüntzel; once the avant-sawing of electric guitar melded into the languid, honeyed groove on opening song “Key/Hole,” it was clear that Kim Gordon’s insistent but basic bass lines wasn’t part of the plan. Things went out even farther on “Lecce, Leaving,” which started to resemble a pastiche of late-era Guided By Voices and mid-70s Who. Sound unplausible? See for yourself. “Ambulancer” was another standout, with Lee’s keening high-pitched guitar line sounding like it was coming straight from old black.
The set was very heavy on the new record, with just a few from Times/Tides but they were well chosen (the urgent “Angles” which was dedicated to his wife, and “Xtina As We Knew Her,” a song that I would imagine would always be played due to it’s total awesomeness). A few perfectly selected covers made the set too; “She Cracked” from Modern Lovers and the 1-2 punch of “Fragile” and “Mannequin” from one of the finest punk rock records ever. Though Sonic Youth was a democracy, I think it’s safe to say that Thurston was the de facto leader. On his own, Lee’s in a different position with having to read and engage the crowd in ways he never had to before. After seeing three shows now, I’d say he’s got it dialed in quite nicely.
Has it really been seven years since Steve Gunn’s debut dropped into this unsuspecting world? Time’s flown by like a raped ape, and slowly but surely his profile is rising. And well it should; show me a finer finger-picking guitar stylist and the next round of cronuts is on me. Mistakenly I thought it was gonna be a solo gig, but Gunn was abetted by ex-NNCK Jason Meagher on bass and a banjo-less Nathan Bowles behind the kit. The term psychedelic country seems like two immiscible fluids trying to find their way to a common suspension, but the laws of physical chemistry are a fickle mistress and with the right dexterity can be over-ruled. If you dig the sounds of Relatively Clean Rivers, this is in that little red dot of the wheelhouse.