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Murray Street

Sonic Youth

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Album Review

Virtually every album Sonic Youth has released since the underrated Goo has been hailed as a return to form. However, Murray Street, their second collaboration with Jim O'Rourke (and their first with him as a full member of the group), not only recalls their past glories but explores new territory. Freed from the trendy agendas that marred A Thousand Leaves and NYC Ghosts & Flowers, the group revisits the complex, transcendent guitar epics that made them underground rock heroes in the first place. But Murray Street doesn't just rehash the sound of their late-'80s heyday, either; for the most part, epics like the '60s-tinged "The Empty Page" and "Rain on Tin" — which sounds a bit like a rural cousin to Television's "Marquee Moon" — are built on surprisingly clean, crisp guitar tones that only explode into occasional noise-storms. Indeed, the guitar work on the album's first three tracks is both economical and sensual, a feast of textures and counterpoints that never sounds overdone. Murray Street's wonderfully natural yet intricate sound is O'Rourke's most distinctive contribution to the group; while his work with Smog and Wilco pushed those groups to be more experimental and eclectic, with Sonic Youth he seems to give those tendencies focus and balance. Even the hypnotic drones at the end of "Karen Revisited," the album's noisy, oddly romantic centerpiece, have a unique precision and clarity. Murray Street's first four songs rank among the most consistent, and consistently exciting, work in Sonic Youth's career, so much so that the album's shorter, more rock-oriented songs feel a bit anticlimactic. "Plastic Sun," a Kim Gordon-sung rant, feels particularly out of keeping with the rest of Murray Street's warm, expansive tone; "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style" is a typical Sonic Youth rocker that suffers merely from not being as good as the first half of the album. Closing with the serenely sexy "Sympathy for the Strawberry," Murray Street reaffirms that at the group's best, Sonic Youth manages to sound fresh and timeless all at once.

Biography

Formed: 1981 in New York, NY

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Sonic Youth were one of the most unlikely success stories of underground American rock in the '80s. Where contemporaries R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü were fairly conventional in terms of song structure and melody, Sonic Youth began their career by abandoning any pretense of traditional rock & roll conventions. Borrowing heavily from the free-form noise experimentalism of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, and melding it with a performance art aesthetic borrowed from the New York post-punk avant-garde,...
Full bio

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