Between the Times & the Tides
Mar 19, 2012 Web Exclusive
Temporality has always been a paramount concern in the songs of Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo. There's been a certain devil-may-care loose improvisation at play with Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, but Ranaldo's songs are rooted in the bedrock idioms of aging, mortality and vulnerability. Be it "Hey Joni," Ranaldo's anti-Reagan screed on the epochal Daydream Nation, on which he venomously exalted "Hey Joni, put it all behind you/It's 1957," or the ominous refrain of "It's later than it seems" on Sonic Nurse's "Paper Cup Exit," this fixation with time and the inevitable damage done grounded Sonic Youth, providing leavening respites from the sheer entropic chaos at the root of Gordon and Moore's songs.
Here, on his fine solo album Between the Times & the Tides, Ranaldo intones in his sinister laconic baritone "Now she's frozen in time," on the John Fahey via Neil Young epic sprawl of "Xtina as I Knew Her." It's a moment frozen in amber for a songwriter who's made a career out of writing them, and this record's replete with similar glacially paced epiphanies.
Ranaldo, like early R.E.M., makes you think slowly, enabling you to visualize the brutal landscapes he vividly depicts with his guitar figures that alternately viciously slash ("Angles") and delicately pluck ("Off the Wall"). Both approaches are superbly illustrated on "Fire Island (phases)," as a messy Crazy Horse-esque guitar freak-out intro gives way to a serenely arpeggiated melody, finding Ranaldo urging, "The sky on the water's brightening/Don't think at all of yesterday." And that, in a nutshell, is what makes this record such a remarkable achievement. It embraces Ranaldo's ample strengths without deigning to cheap rearview mirror nostalgia.
On the magisterial "Shouts," he wonders over gliding slide guitar and bleeding Hammond organ, "Could these be the sacred stories?" In the context of an album this accomplished, Ranaldo's stories resonate like holy Scripture. (www.leeranaldo.com)
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