SONIC YOUTH – The Eternal (2009)

Sonic Youth - The Eternal Few things in music are as undeniable as the fact that Sonic Youth, since their inception in 1981, have done pretty much all that can be done with guitars. And then some. I’m sure there are some out there who’d (foolishly) attempt to dispute this, but I’m fairly certain that any such person is unfamiliar with some of the group’s more radical material (which often gets overlooked by the mainstream press), such as their SYR series (a sequentially-numbered group of experimental recordings that appear on the band’s own label, Sonic Youth Records; this tactic might sound a bit self-indulgent, but the band really had no choice – few, if any labels would dare to release material that is so preternaturally unmarketable). So, what does The Eternal signify for the band who gave us both Daydream Nation and a collaboration with Japanese noise maestro Merzbow? Well, it shows us that, unlike many bands who’ve lasted as long, Sonic Youth are still capable of creating tight, dexterous music that’s full of vigor and surprises. How many other bands who’ve been around for 28 years can you say the same thing about?

There’s no filler to be found on The Eternal, no unnecessary material of any kiond: every song is the way it is because it needs to be. I can imagine these songs in the hands of lesser bands, and it’s not a pretty sight. I can see them shaping and molding the perfectly succinct ruckus of Thunderclap and ruining its power in the process, and I can see them whittling away at Massage The History until it’s nothing but a neutered, four-minute shadow of its former ten- minute self. If done in this fashion, these songs are (admittedly) more radio friendly and approachable, but they’re also remarkably passive. No one wants songs like that coming from the band who continually and tirelessly redefined guitar’s place in modern rock music (even in the face of having most of their custom instruments and vintage gear stolen in July of 1999).

At this rate, I’m not sure if Sonic Youth should ever stop making music. I know Kim Gordon’s pushing 60, and that with every new release, the band is more likely to make a misstep somewhere (something they’ve done few of), but really, The Eternal seems to be another justification that a new Sonic Youth album every two or three years is always a good thing. And I’m glad. After all, who doesn’t love guitar?


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