Lee Ranaldo - Between The Times & Tides

A beacon of craftsmanship and invention coated in marvellously empathetic collection of pop tunes.

Label: Matador Records

Rating: 8

While the security of his day job may have been irreparably damaged with the break-up of Thurston and Kim’s indie rock fairy-tale, Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo has deigned to release his first proper song-orientated solo album, aided and abetted by avant-guitarist Nels Cline, moonlighting from Wilco, jazz veteran John Medeski and SY alumni Steve Shelley, Bob Bert and Jim O’Rourke. Which, on paper, reads like an avant-rock supergroup, an aspect which makes the fact that this is the most commercial sounding Sonic Youth splinter group since 1992’s ‘Dirty’ seem all the more surprising.

Ranaldo’s half-sung, half-spoken vocal delivery has always paled in comparison to Thurston’s hipsters sneer and Kim’s raspy interjections. But on this album, Ranaldo sounds more confident than ever before, shifting from folk fireside singer on ‘Hammer Blows’ to a convincing Stipe impression on ‘Lost (Plane T Nice)’. If anything, the record is steeped in the lineage of power pop rather than anything too left-of-field, Ranaldo channelling the winsome choruses of The Db’s, Stipe’s lot, The Posies and, most notably, Teenage Fanclub. There’s an unhurried charm to the record, evinced by an uncluttered production and a steady pace, only occasionally stopping to reflect such as on the countrified ‘Stranded’, featuring gorgeous slide guitars shooting off into infinity. Closing track, ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’, is not just a relative of the Beatles’ ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ in terms of nomenclature; Ranaldo adapts the swirling, backwards guitars and shuffling, stop start drum pattern of the psychedelic classic that retains the mystique without ever drifting into pastiche.

With some sterling lead guitar work from Nels Cline, even outshining Ranaldo’s owned skewed tuning wizardry, ‘Between The Times & Tides’ is a beacon of craftsmanship and invention coated in marvellously empathetic collection of pop tunes. Not a bad effort for a first attempt at a song-orientated album…