Sunday, March 30, 2014

The guitar guy played real good feedback... The top 5 Lee Ranaldo Sonic Youth songs.

  When I was a teenager I had the world subdivided into two sets of people, those who liked Sonic Youth, and those who did not. They were the most famous obscure band in the world. Obscure to the general population of course, not the arty-intellectual types like my friends. During a time when grunge and hip hop were breaking into the mainstream, most kids were exposed to at least some decent music, just by turning on the radio. If you were into Sonic Youth, it meant you dug a little bit deeper. SY fans weren't going to be jocks, call you a fag for having dyed hair, probably read books other than the ones required by school, and generally, were less likely to be total dicks.

  When Thurston and Kim split up, I gotta say, I didn't really care. Maybe I'm just jaded, old, cynical, but I'm an adult now, they are people, shit happens, whatever. I like the newer Sonic Youth albums, but I really haven't been deep into a SY release since A Thousand Leaves. It's not them, it's me. I don't think they ever put out a bad album maybe unless you count Cicconne Youth or whatever your least favorite SYR EP was, and that's really incredible. That's NINE albums that I love and another handful that are somewhere between good and very good.

Nothing will ever be as cool as this. Deal with it.
  I saw Lee Ranaldo play one of the last shows at Maxwell's (RIP). The timing of it all; the Kim and Thurston split, the SY breakup, and Lee releasing a strong album of very accessible rock songs, really put a spotlight (for me at least) on Ranaldo's work in SY. Part of me wanted to avoid gossiping or even realizing that the couple who defined the band that basically shaped my existence has broken up. Part of me was pumped from seeing a really good show, with a band member who had always been a supporting actor finally in the starring role. For the first time since hearing Washing Machine back in 1995, I really saw Sonic Youth with the indie-camelot folklore stripped away.

  It made me go back through Lee's songs and really look at them side by side. I wonder if there were a lot of ideas that got scrapped because he was only going to be singing a song or two per album, and that's why most of his songs are awesome. Then again, SY always seemed like band that jammed songs out. I assume a lot of great parts in Kim or Thurston songs were written by Lee, (and vice versa), so for the purpose of our studies, "Lee songs" are going to be considered songs where Ranaldo is the lead singer throughout. Anyway, here's the list.

Modern day Ranaldo. Guitar wizard/scientist meets bleeding heart songwriter.

#5 Skip Tracer

    Lee does the kinda spoken word poetry thing a lot. It's his calling card, though he does have a very clear and honest singing voice when he chooses to use it. "Skip Tracer" is a diary entry, or a travelogue. It's road weary, but proud. Hyper-hip, but self aware and aware of the foolishness of it all. If you had to pick one Lee song to show an alien, this might be the one. I think he's hands down the best lyricist in the group.

#4 NYC Ghosts & Flowers

  This is another spoken word heavy, winding track. It's a sad remembrance of someone's former life. Whether it's Ranaldo's own, or a character's, is irrelevant to me. It's fourth on this list for personal reasons. In the spring of '00, Sonic Youth played the fair grounds in Northampton (it was some sort of small festival). It was my first year in college. I dropped acid with my girlfriend and a small mix of college and high school friends. I tried to time it so I'd peak during SY's set, and be functional by the time we had to leave, but even good acid can be unpredictable. I was spaced out and weird the whole time; waves of fuzzy energy, building into something unknown. We worked our way to about 40 feet from the stage. The sunny day had turned overcast. Lee walked up to the mic and said, "We're going to play a rain dance." The band broke into NYC Ghosts & Flowers. On the "Left out in the rain," line a single raindrop landed squarely on my forehead. The acid kicked in like a motherfucker. I spent the next five hours not on planet Earth.

#3 Eric's Trip

  To me, this is like, THE Lee song. So good that a pretty sweet band if named after it. It's more of a straight up rocker; driving, with the snare on the beats and that super jagged mid-era SY guitar sound. They got better as a band, and they got to work with better studios, and the sound got way less rough and DIY sounding. There are plusses and minuses to that. Daydream is the last album before DGC, and at that point, they are produced like any other decent band of the era. I wish I could hear Jet Set or Dirty produced like DN, not that it would be better, just probably really different. Full disclosure, I think "Hey Joni" is just as good, or maybe better, but for some reason "Eric's Trip" always pops into my mind when I think of Lee. You can't go against your gut.

#2 Wish Fulfillment

  Personal reasons on this one too. I had a crush on a girl who loved this song, or at least I thought she loved this song. I don't know, you're young and everything is wrong, and here's this sweet love song... It wouldn't surprise me if this track was #1 on the "15 year old's crush mix tape" charts from 95-97. Hell, hopefully it's still there today.  I think this will be the song selection that most disagree with, but whatever. If you have the relationship with this song that I do (and I'm betting a ton of you guys do) you'll understand. If not, just put "Karen Revisited" or "Genetic" at #5 and slide everything else up.

#1 Pipeline/Kill Time

  This is a fierce fucking song. It's got that mid-era roughness, the kinda cyber-punk-future-porn dystopian theme that runs wild on Sister... shit, it's kinda the opposite of "Wish Fulfillment" in most ways. It's one of the darker Lee songs for sure. I think what is so special about this track is the duality of "Pipeline" and "Kill Time." The "Pipeline" section being a well composed rock song, and "Kill Time" being two minutes of noise, feedback, and primordial pedals. It's really Sonic Youth in a nutshell.

Listen to the tracks. Leave your feedback. Twister, Dust-buster, Hospital Bed. I'll see you, see you, see you on the highway.

Don't forget guys, we have another awesome showcase this Friday at Matchless! More info here.

And don't forget to like HBR on Facebook ---> here.


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