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Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree
Names of North End Women Brian Coney , March 12th, 2020 10:03

Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo teams up with Catalan producer-guitarist Raül Refree for an album overflowing with pitched percussion and modified cassettes

There’s always been an elemental poetry to the output of Lee Ranaldo. From his wonderfully mottled solo work and helping define a generation with Sonic Youth, to his first book, 1994’s Road Movies and several other collections of poetry and short writings since, his voice has always sounded and read multi-dimensional.

On Names of North End Women, his new collaborative album with Catalan musician and producer Raül Refree, listeners are treated to a whole slew of new accents and strange patois, most of which are resistant to second-guessing. From the first balmy notes of opener ‘Alice Etc.’, the big sell here is instantly enticing: celebrated though they both are as guitarists, here, Ranaldo and Refree meld minds to eke out shapeshifting expanses that owe little to their instrument of choice.

Wedding very new and very old technology with a curious tape from 25 years ago that Ranaldo found spooled on old Studer tape recorder, genre linearity or anything resembling calcuable harmonic patterns play second fiddle to sounds, both found and freely manipulated, that offset it all. Whether you look to the cut-up verse and swelling musique concrète of ‘New Brain Trajectory’ or a song like ‘Light Years Out’ - a highlight that sees Ranaldo’s voice yield to sub-bass rumbles and found-sound smatterings à la The Books circa The Way Out - backwashed sounds of slamming doors, unknown voices in conversation and other bygone incidentals adopt a strange air of instrumentalism.

Having first collaborated with the founding Sonic Youth guitarist his 2017 solo album, Electric Trim, the ad hoc stylings and occasional serene vocals of Refree regularly compliment Ranaldo’s clear desire here to not simply break new ground but pulverise, just for a moment, what constitutes a familiar past. With the latter describing the album as “the beginning of a new configuration”, it’s marimbas, vibraphones, samplers and modified cassettes, not star-shaped six-string forays and squalls of face-searing feedback, that take centre-stage on Names of North End Women.

Carrying with it all the meant-to-be character of, say, The Bug and Earth’s Dylan Carlson coming together to sonically conspire, this record doubles up as testament to Ranaldo and Refree being straight-up kindred creatives. Rather than simply throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, together, the pair throw a lot, all while investing time and a marked sense of freedom to what each track could eventually become. But the most exciting bit of all when this particular tape spools out? What’s almost certain to come next.