In the musical landscape today, many bands have now begun to focus on the more ornate aspect of musical creation, choosing to spend their time carefully constructing harmonies and explosions of sonic noise. Still, when it comes to combining both, none have done it better in the recent history than Sonic Youth. They return again to give us The Eternal, which holds some of the more explosively brooding moments recorded this year.
Kim Gordon opens the slaughter by groaning over the enthusiastic barrage of guitars on “Sacred Trickster.” As an opening statement, you’d be hard-pressed to find one as passionate as this, with Kim sounding younger than she has in years. It’s a vibrance and enthusiasm that the group sometimes seemed to lack in their previous efforts.
Here, you find the band reverting to a more classical sense of songwriting, much as they did on Rather Ripped, at times pandering to the hordes of fans that still hold nineties guitar rock as the ultimate god. “Little Lifeboat” is the perfect example, with Gordon and Moore trading vocal duties, often overriding one another. Guitar work throughout the song is exceptional, as we always expect, but the fact that there exists a melodious balance as well showcases the band’s growth through the last two decades whilst still holding tightly to their experimental roots. Even so, with songs like “Antenna,” their experimentation has been honed such that they seem more like an arty version of Pavement rather than a sporadic noise band that occasionally conjures up a tune with pop sensibility.
Let us not forget though, that this is still Sonic Youth, and they still have the capacity to unleash the fury upon listeners with walls of noise meant to shatter your ears in an instant. “Calming the Snake” is anything but calming; rather it is a raucous number with Gordon providing the vocal ammunition that most punk-singers crave, even to this day. Clearly, this is a band still very much on top of their game.
In closing the album, the group chose to pull back on the reins just a bit, so as to not go overboard with their monstrous power. “Walkin Blue” is one of the more straight forward songs the group has composed, and while it comes off as simple, a close listen to the musicianship reveals that this song, as with all their songs, is anything but simple. Of course, they completely end the album with the sprawling number “Massage the History.” Musically, this song covers a vast expanse of territory, ranging from noise experimentation to bedroom guitar strumming, all the while Gordon softly moans. It’s a closing statement just as strong as the beginning, exemplifying the balance of the group. The Eternal benefits greatly from the varying musical approaches, and once again make Sonic Youth a band to be reckoned with in the modern age.