Sonic Youth
Murray Street

/geffen; 2002/

rating :  I don't like marks but Barbara "the boss" H compels me to: 9.5 


more info :

If we do not take into account experimental albums (SYR 1-5; Ciccone Youth), side-projects, soundtracks (Made In USA) and live albums (Sonic Death, Hold That Tiger), this is Sonic Youth’s 13th album. The band’s line-up has changed for the first time since Evol in 1986: ex-Gastr Del Sol Jim O’Rourke has joined the group to play bass and Kim Gordon is now playing the third guitar. A lot of fans were scared by O’Rourke’s arrival but they have to admit that he fulfils his task with effectiveness. The previous album NYC Ghosts and Flowers contained some great songs but it was sometimes mundane and left an impression of being unfinished. On the contrary, Murray Street is really great, elaborate, touching and therefore praiseworthy.

The sleeve is a nice photo of Thurston’s and Kim’s daughter playing with another kid. This album is named after the location of Sonic Youth’s recording studio on Murray Street which is situated a few blocks away from the destroyed Twin Towers. I read a couple of times that the band was rehearsing when the airplane tore down the buildings. I don’t know whether this statement is true or not but when you know how much the group’s members are attached to NYC, you can guess how much they have been affected by the event.

Let’s come back to the music. “The Empty Page” brilliantly opens the album with Thurston singing “These are the words but not the truth”. This song is a marvel of catchy indie music. It perfectly represents Thurston’s style. The song structure is quite similar to the one of “Sunday” for example and I think it conveys similar emotions (except that the edgy passage is shorter but more agitated). Thurston Moore sings on the second track as well. It is called “Disconnection Notice”. It is less catchy than “The Empty Page” but its features are finely chiselled. The structure is once again particular of TM’s songs (verse-chorus x2– instrumental passage–verse) but here the instrumental passage is longer than in “The Empty Page” or “Sunday”. It is a beautiful odyssey made up of intricate melodies and Thurston’s vocals reappear to put an end to the song. His melodious and sweet singing begins directly in “Rain on Tin” whose instrumental passage consists first of intricate guitar and bass melodies which gradually give way to layers of guitars. It does not end up in random noise as one could have expected. “Rain on Tin”’s atmosphere is particularly reminiscent of A 1000 Leaves and makes me think of Hoarfrost for instance because the bass is playing alone after the climax. Surprisingly the singing does not resume at the end but the track calms down and keyboard sounds appear at the end.

The 4th song is Lee’s “Karen Revisited”. It surely evokes “Karen Koltrane” but it is more dynamic right from the start. The guitar lines are marvellously intertwined and Steve Shelley’s drums are really effective (as usual). Lee’s phrasing is becoming more and more intense and finally sings “Karen – Miscommunication” with a great deal of emotion. Who is this Karen Lee Ranaldo writes so beautiful songs about ?? However, one can be a bit disappointed to hear the vocals not even last 4 minutes. The rest of the track consists of harmonic noises (almost a la Gastr Del Sol) which would have been more appropriate at the end of the album. This song may be a live performance since there are some applause at the end.

“Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style” carries on the album. It starts with typical Moore singing and guitar melody (with Lee making noise, Kim and O’Rourke adding rhythmic energy). These nice valleys alternate with astonishing, restless peaks which strangely evokes Godspeed You Black Emperor (especially the guitar riff and the drums near the end). Let’s immediately clarify that it also evokes old Sonic Youth songs such as “Expressway To Your Skull” or “Teenage Riot”. I think that the group, thanks to this song, reminds everyone that they were there before! If lyrics are most of the time hard to understand, they are meant to make sense. Here, the title seems to remind this idea: Radical Adults = Sonic Youth. Lick also means “defeat”. Godhead style then refers to GYBE. SY defeat GBYE. Am I right ??

Then, there is the amusing “Plastic Sun” in which Kim squawks and snarls as if it was a Free Kitten song. It is far from being indispensable. It even somehow breaks the nice homogeneity of the album. Fortunately, Kim closes Murray Street with the amazing “Sympathy for the strawberry” which begins with once again intricate guitar melodies that are brought into relief by a strong rhythmic section. After 4 minutes, she starts to whisper in her own particular way (she even utters backing vocals a bit like in JC). Then she sings and the song ends up with beautiful intertwined guitar lines.

Murray Street is roughly a great, elaborate and moving album. It is the worthy successor of A 1000 Leaves. We might even say that it is a shorter and rawer version of the 1998 Sonic Youth album.