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Lee Ranaldo
Electric Trim Julian Marszalek , September 14th, 2017 10:31

Stepping further from the shadow of Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo delivers solo album number 12 and it flows like wine into a glass.

Regardless of how you define Sonic Youth’s current status – hiatus, endless vacation, break up, whatever – what is unavoidable is that the band stopped working together at the point that they reached a late career spike with both Rather Ripped and The Eternal. So while their demise is indeed lamentable, it has actually opened the gates to more music than we would’ve got if they’d stayed together. And, with drummer Steve Shelley dividing his time between Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo like the offspring of divorced parents, there’s a certain familiarity to be had.

Or is there? While Moore has continued to plough his individual furrow with a series of improving solo albums, his template hasn’t strayed too far from the music that made his name. It’s his former guitar partner Lee Ranaldo who’s been moving out of the shadow of his alma mater, and he is beginning to shine.

Like his erstwhile bandmate, Ranaldo is improving in more ways than one. For starters, teaming up with novelist Jonathan Lethem for six co-writes has proved to be a smart move and one that deals with the lyrical blindside that marred his two previous albums Between The Times And The Tides and Last Night On Earth. Here, in the main, he moves away from the simple rhyming that’s been his stock-in-trade to lyrics that flow more like wine from a bottle into a glass. With a side order of jazz fag.

And while there’s still some way to go on the lyrical front, Ranaldo is to be applauded for his musical excursions. Eschewing the shrieks, skronks and sonic assaults of Sonic Youth, Ranaldo applies his love and curiosity of alternate tunings to more acoustic settings and creates bucolic and lysergic-tinged material. Undeniably startling, it nonetheless suits Ranaldo well and, aided and abetted by a cast of characters that includes Wilco’s Nels Cline, Sharon Van Etten and producer Raül ‘Refree’ Fernandez, it is wholly convincing.

The harmonic string buzzes and open chords of ‘Moroccan Mountains’ are deliciously evocative of parched vistas and shimmering horizons, as elsewhere ‘Circular (Right As Rain)’ is a kaleidoscopic yet subtle trip. What’s also apparent is how much Ranaldo has improved as a singer; his voice is strong and confident and he’s on far more intimate terms with infectious melodies. Best of all is ‘Last Looks’, his tender duet with Sharon Van Etten that switches up several gears to move into further psychedelic territories.

Self-assured and comfortable in his skin, Lee Ranaldo is properly striking out on his own and sounding all the better for it.