Sonic Youth – New York City Ghosts and Flowers

March 29, 2009

Sonic Youth's "The Eternal," Out June 9 on Matador

Sonic Youth's "The Eternal," Due Out 6/9 on Matador

Sonic Youth‘s next album, “The Eternal,” is due out June 9 on Matador Records. And, as is often the case when I’m looking forward to hearing something new by one of my all-time favorite bands, I’ve found myself returning to the Sonic Youth catalog over the past couple weeks, listening again to and thinking again about all of their earlier releases.

Which leads me back to “New York City Ghosts and Flowers.” Though much maligned both when it first came out (for a leading example, see this review) and in the years since, I’ve always really liked the album. Sure, the compositions lack the awesome power of the wide open jams that appear on each of the excellent SY records, “Murray Street,” “Sonic Nurse,” and “Rather Ripped,” that have come out since. But much of songwriting on NYCG&F is as poignant as anything any of the band’s members did before or have done since. Here, I’m thinking about the poetry of Thurston’s “Free City Rhymes” and Kim’s “Nevermind (What Was It Anyway)” and, even more, “Side2Side.”  Overall, the album is like a small painting hanging in the corner of a gallery, one that’s all too easy to overlook at first but that once you see it, just pulls you in. Maybe that’s what Robert Christgau is getting at, too, in his review of the record here.

Of course, what up until recently has been one of the most interesting things about NYCG&F is that it’s an album of songs about New York City that came out just 16 months before the September 11 attacks. But what ought to make the album, particularly the title track by Lee Ranaldo, even more compelling today is that while, admirably, New York City didn’t fall to the foreign invaders then, now it’s been hit even harder, bitterly and ironically, by the colossal greed, selfishness, and stupidity of our very own ruling economic class. Karl Marx might be amused, but I’m certainly not. Still, at least there’s a new Sonic Youth album to look forward to.

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