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Between the Times and the Tides
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Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo presents his first proper, song-oriented studio album this March. Recorded with longstanding Sonic Youth producer John Agnello, the album is a shimmering and melodic tapestry of rock sounds. Ranaldo's trademark alternate-tuning guitar work is at the forefront, but it is amplified by brilliant leadwork from Wilco's Nels Cline on every track. The all-star lineup also includes Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums, Alan Licht on guitar, and John Medeski on keyboards. There are also cameos from original Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert and Jim O'Rourke.
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"Between The Times & The Tides" is basically an album made for someone like me. The Lee fan. It is an album of ten wonderfully written songs where Lee sings the lead. While the songwriting is complicated and dense, the album is also quite listenable. There are not too many weird tangents into dissonance, which is actually quite refreshing from a member of Sonic Youth. If you want that from Lee, you can go to Texts of Light, some of the SYR albums, or even some of his previous solo albums. This album is best summed up in a single word: pleasant. It came out today, and I have listened to it three times so far, and am ready for my fourth. Every song except one sunk in immediately. On subsequent listens, even the song that bothered sounded good (to the point that I cannot even remember which song was the troublesome track).
If you are a Sonic Youth fan, and especially a Lee fan, you will probably not be disappointed in this album. If you are a general music fan who stumbled across this review, I'd say that "Between The Times & The Tides" would probably be one of the safest gambles as an entry point into the complex Sonic Youth-related oeuvre.
There's definitely more variety here than with Lee's SY songs. "Waiting on a Dream" and "Xtina as I Knew Her" are exactly what SY fans would expect: sound and lyrics combining to give the music the spare, lost feel that most of Lee's compositions have. But that aesthetic doesn't define the album. The songs quickly move toward more typical melodic rock. "Hammer Blows" and "Stranded" sound folky. "Fire Island" is a medley of different rock styles. I'd put the album's sound somewhere between R.E.M., Neil Young, and Sonic Nurse. It's not bad, but it doesn't really stand out. There's not enough flair, not enough freshness. I can like most of the songs if I try to, but when I forget to try, they get a little dull.
I think Lee was right to diversify his sound in this album, and I'll definitely listen to whatever he does next. But this album is only decent, not outstanding, and decent albums are a dime a dozen. I might listen to this one a couple more times. I might put a couple songs on my iPod for a while. But that's it.