Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sonic Youth
'NYC Ghosts & Flowers'

When we last saw Sonic Youth at All Tomorrow Parties, they had just stuck their guitars so far up their arse that they practically had to open their mouth and reach down their throat to detune them, so you will be forgiven if you approach ‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’ with a touch of apprehension. However, with their more experimental material now being released on their own SYR imprint, you can put your fears to one side you because the Youth have got their passports out, and are in the customs line for planet listenable.

While the days of such art-rock pop gems such as ‘Schizophrenia’ or ‘Sugar Kane’ may be gone, ‘NYC Ghosts…’ is Sonic Youth’s most accessible, and most concise, record since 1994’s ‘Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star’. From the insistent urgency of ‘StreamXSonik Subway’ to the Velvets chug of ‘Renegade Princess’, this is the sound of Sonic Youth’s reinvention, taking its cues from ‘A Thousand Leaves’, but offering a much more refined sound, full of sparse instrumentation and measured dissonance.

The sonic turbulence that had been displayed at Camber Sands is not entirely absent from the record, but is carefully restrained, utilised rather that indulged, and it’s only on the closing ‘Lightnin’’ that they allow themselves to disintegrate into a barrage of white noise, completely devoid of tune or melody, as a wailing trumpet ekes out a sorry existence amid Kim’s mutterings.

Alongside ‘Side2Side’, which echoes the chiming guitars and lyrical simplicity of their ‘Confusion Is Sex’ debut, ‘Small Flowers Crack Concrete’ shows how far Sonic Youth have come, how far they have pushed themselves over the last two decades. Where they previously wrote songs in dedication to their recently dead idols, Thurston’s beat-poet narration on 'Small Flowers…' could have easily been culled from the psychosis-driven, stream of consciousness prose of William Burroughs or Allen Ginsberg themselves, as he monotonously depicts a New York city of Warholian proportions (“narcotic squads sweep thru poet dens / spilling coffee and grabbing 15 yr old runaway girls … mystery plays of shit and nothingness … death poems for the living gods of America / plastic saxophones bleat, bleed for nothing”).

When you add to this equation the artwork (drawn by Burroughs himself, natch) and Jim O’Rourke’s co-production, ‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’ is the sound of Sonic Youth casting aside the pretenders and charlatans that have sought to depose them, and reclaiming the throne we feared they might have carelessly given away. The only true disappointment is that, at just under 45 minutes, the album comes in a bit on the short side, but as the old adage goes, you should always leave them wanting Moore.