MUSIC REVIEWS: Sonic Youth, Solid Gold, Hopewll, Sacred Oath, DAF
You say your friends don’t like Sonic Youth? Did Ellen Page’s flippant comment about them in Juno turn them away? Well The Eternal might just be the album to win them over. They may have a reputation for being ultra-hip noisemakers but “Sacred Trickster,” the album’s opening track, is about as accessible a song as you’ll get from Sonic Youth. It aint no Top 40 hit but by golly it’s a pop song (kinda).
The straight up rockers will surely draw in any fan of alternative rock music and then the magic of Sonic Youth will reveal itself. From their instrumental explorations to their concise bursts of aggression, this album has everything you’ve come to expect and maybe more. Every member is at the top of their game, including new addition Mark Ibold of Pavement fame. Songs like “Antenna” and “Malibu Gas Station” sound familiar on first listen but it’s not because the band is repeating itself. These songs simply have that classic Sonic Youthness and are destined to be classics themselves. It’s songs like these that could lead those doubting friends of yours into Sonic Youth’s back catalogue and open them up to what they’ve been missing.
What’s most impressive about The Eternal is that it’s the band’s sixteenth album and it’s still so impressive. How many other bands have such a high output of material that’s all of such high quality? The last album, 2006’s Rather Ripped, was just as good and so were most of the other recent albums. The album’s title is apt because Sonic Youth are an eternally great band that still produces eternal music and they show no signs of slowing down. This could be the album that makes you a fan or simply one that reaffirms your fandom. By the way, they are still ultra-hip and they still make a ton of noise.
I’ve heard it said that you can get addicted to certain hardcore drugs after trying it just once or twice and such is the case with the debut album from Minneapolis’s Solid Gold entitled Bodies of Water. The sound is remarkably easy to listen to with its smooth melodies and offbeat digital percussion and sounds a bit like a shoegazing version of later 1980’s AM radio (along the lines of later Fleetwood Mac and Steve Miller’s Abracadabra). The album is like a bucket of chill with a moody, electronic chaser and the pacing and diversity of the songs keep it interesting throughout.
The album begins with “New Kanada” which introduces a low-fi acoustic riff that opens up into a dense electronic composition complete with what sounds like digital woodpeckers, down-home banjo, and psychedelic keyboards then again gets minimal during the chorus with just drums, keyboards, and vocals. It’s followed up with “Armoured Cars” which is quicker in pace and more simplified musically but has a fantastic melody and golden vocals. Seamlessly, the next song, “Get Over It,” takes the pace down slightly but it’s funky synth melody hooks the listener in as it strings together a smooth, dreamlike sonic landscape with simple but effective lyrics. “Bible Thumper,” the next track is another keeper with its looped, oddball pulsating sounds and bright guitar rhythm which drops out at key moments lending a power to the vocals and keyboard melody.
The album continues to impress with songs like “Calm Down” which is reminiscent Pink Floyd, the up-tempo, Castilian-esque “Neon Rose,” and “Who You Gonna Run To?” which mixes the dreamlike trance keyboard feel with a steady digital beat for great effect. The band hasn’t hit it big yet but it’s just a matter of time so beat out the trend and check out the album so you can call your friends losers when they haven’t heard of them.
Hopewell is a finely honed band whose sound is as abounding as the horizon. Quite difficult to categorize where some insist psychedelic or space rock, the definite is that Good Good Desperation is an ingenious approach to music wickedly rock and captivating. The vocal dynamics of lead singer Jason Russo, also a member of the group Mercury Rev, has a vocal range that nicely fits between the multi-layered tapestry of guitars that slash and reverberate with an earth-shaking rhythmic arrogance. The bass often moves solidly along and in tow with drums that rival a hardcore metal band. It is highly obvious that the musical craftsmanship of the rest of Hopewell, from Hopewell Junction, New York is audacious, heavy, raw and funky. Each song feels as if it has different movements and at times creates an ambience of a blustery and blissful sonic room of pure emotive freedom through instrumentation alone. It is hard not to be seduced by the teardrop delivery of Russo’s voice and the intriguing heady altitude of sounds by Tyson Lewis on keyboard and drums, Lyndon Roeller on guitar, Rich Meyer on bass and Jason Green on drums. “10,000 Black Masses, Pt. 1” begins with the alert of a car alarm and a spider crawling guitar riff, while the bass bumps along with a subtle eeriness. The song spreads out like a parachute allowing a lot of air and an atmosphere as intriguing as the heavens.
Sacred Oath were originally formed in 1985 when they formed a cult following in the metal scene. They later disbanded in 1988 over creative disagreements. Fast forward to 2007 when Lead singer Rob Thorne and Drummer Kenny Evans reformed the group with new members Bill Smith (amazing on guitar) and bassist Scott Waite.
And really, it’s like they never broke up, but continued right along and put this album out in 1989. They make the retro thing work though. The band sounds like a mish-mash of Metallica and Judas Priest, a Metapriestica if you will. The compositions are tight, brooding metal. Rob Thorne has some great pipes, and as mentioned before, Bill Smith is a virtuoso on the guitar. So while they make the retro 80’s hair metal sound work quite well, the weak point is the lyrics as Rob Thorne clearly went dumpster diving in Ronnie James Dio’s trash to get at his discarded lyrics. “Ebon Beauty awakens from her sleep/Wrapped in a shadow a shroud of fear/a raging thirst for a thousand years” sung by Thorne, on “Mistress of the Setting Sun.” is typical of the over the top lyrics on the album. It’s a great song otherwise, but it’s hard to take it as seriously with such overwrought lyrics. Other highlights are “Blood Storm” and “High and Mighty,” the most straightforward rocker on the album and as such, also the best.
Unfortunately, the album doesn’t know when to end and collapses on itself. The last four tracks are indistinguishable and overkill. “Order of the System of the Lords” is awesome and ridiculous enough to end the album on a high note. Rock on.
When I first picked up this album, I was pretty stoked, as I’m always up for something with kooky European language lyrics from the seventies era. Touted as the Best of DAF, the album has quite a few tracks and if you’re into repetitive drum pounding tempos that don’t alter speed or sound for the entire piece, the entirety of it may indeed interest you.
The beginning of the album is oddly interesting, as many of the tracks have this dance inspiring energy; almost like punk rock. Snarling German words are slathered over the pounding tings of this sort of dancey industrial that, at first blush are, quite engaging.
As the album goes on, the repetition remains, but the tempo decreases, and the songs seem to blend together. I actually speak German, so listening to this album was something I really looked forward to, as I like hearing the language. But even this wasn’t really working out, as the lyrics are most often centered on violence and ethno-racial tension.
Unfortunately, the song I found most conducive to dancing was all about fascists, which sort of sums up the album for me. Though the inclusion of a xylophone on some of the tracks was an odd touch. An album that’s probably best for fans only.