Sonic Youth, a band of shifting sounds and endless influence, has gone about things ass-backwards. Sonic Youth started out releasing spiky tunes awash with dissonance and fractured beauty; now, nearly 30 years in, the group's music has become more ebullient and digestible—if no less strange.
The Eternal, the group's 16th full-length album, is a singular work, with idiosyncratic salutes, via song dedications, to obscure beat poet Gregory Corso and punk rocker Bobby Pyn (aka Darby Crash), and folk hero John Fahey, who painted the cover art. It's also a labyrinthine album where pop is wrapped in sheets of guitar noise, while experimental rock is dense with melody.
In other words, it's a Sonic Youth album.
Opener "Sacred Trickster" begins with some slack, detuned strums before barreling through its two-minute runtime. Kim Gordon (playing only guitar on the album) moans and shouts through the song—fusing it with funny, knowing lines about feminism, music and magic. "Anti-Orgasm" is appropriately filled with cheeky '60s lyrics and streamlined guitar and drum synchronization. Meanwhile, "Antenna" may be the group's most cinema-ready anthem, a sprawling guitar intro that shifts into a cool, driving rhythm; and "What We Know" is a staccato paint-peeler, with Thurston Moore's emotive vocals coating serpentine guitar riffs.
A stunning album of near perfection, The Eternal enters the album-of-the-year conversation. Closer "Massage the History"—nearly 10 minutes of drums, bass and guitars shifting from ethereal to pounding—is a testament to restraint, indulgence and showmanship.