by Chris Familton
When news began to spread across the blogosphere that Lee Ranaldo had a new solo album coming out there would have been mixed reactions for fans of his work in Sonic Youth. Would this be a showcase for his esoteric experimental guitar-scapes (like 2008‘s Maelstrom From Drift) or a journey deeper into his poetry-laced art rock songs that pepper the many Sonic Youth albums? The answer becomes clear straight from the first track and as the album reveals itself an impressive collection of ragged, twisting and chiming indie rock emerges.
Waiting On A Dream is that opening song with its teasing Paint It Black guitar notes giving way to a dreamy chug. Ranaldo has always had a wandering feel to many of his songs and this is a perfect example. He is in no rush to get to a chorus or hit a solo as the song winds its way, building a warm and gentle sonic bed as he lays those keening melodies over the top of everything. It is the perfect scene setter, announcing the album’s intent and proposing his palette of krautrock rhythms, R.E.M meets Neil Young and Television guitar tones and diverse lyrical content.
The standout track comes early with Off The Wall, its glorious vocal melodies coming thick and fast over an unabashed catchy melange of guitar hooks. The shape of the song, the chord changes and placement of his voice are eminently traditional in form but they are woven together John Agnello’s production brilliantly. Everything in its right place as Thom Yorke would say.
Ranaldo benefits greatly from the other players he has surrounded himself with on the record. Longtime Sonic Youth cohort Steve Shelley does exactly what he normally does on the kit, anchoring the sound and ushering it along with metronomic drive and precision while Wilco’s Nels Cline provides his usual superb guitar textures, vibrato riffs and six string acrobatics. Agnello uses Cline well, never letting the histrionics overshadow the song. On the seven minute Xtina As I Knew Her the guitar is theremin-like giving it a disconcerting feel while on Angles Cline is used to add spiraling avant-garde wiggles as a counterpoint to the straight flavour of the rest of the song.
While Ranaldo embraces his rock influences on tracks like the R.E.M photocopy Lost (Plane T Nice) and Shouts which references some of the 80s output of New Zealand’s Flying Nun label like The Bats, he also dials back the electricity for a couple of wonderful slower tracks like the sad and ghostly Stranded and the folk tones of Hammer Blows. Both tracks give his lyrics a chance to step forward and though less abstract than much of his Sonic Youth output they still conjure up some wonderful dark imagery.
Some will be disappointed by the predominance of traditional rock tropes on Between The Times And The Tides but it makes sense that Ranaldo would venture in this direction after decades of dissonance and exploration with Sonic Youth. It gives him a chance to indulge in all those other corners of his songwriting and shows a determined maturity and a strong belief in the power of verses, choruses and above all; rock n roll.
this review was first published on FasterLouder