It only took New York-based alternative/experimental rockers Sonic Youth 30 years to realize that when you’re patient, things turn out exponentially better.
Since 1981, guitarist Thurston Moore, bassist/guitarist Kim Gordon, guitarist Lee Ranaldo, bassist Mark Ibold and drummer Steve Shelley have been hammering out albums at the nearly unshakeable pace of every year and a half; in the process, they helped define the No Wave and ensuing noise, indie and alternative rock sub-genres with their avant-garde approach to combining the basic band structure with, well, whatever the hell they wanted.
It’s worked, making them last longer than most musical trends. Recent studio effort The Eternal (Matador Records) is their 16th overall.
Instantly heralded as their strongest work in years, The Eternal knows no limits of praise, a wondrous feat given that their entire catalogue is already considered a high watermark.
That is, almost every one of their releases is considered essential from the likes of legendary acts such as Nirvana all the way down to your neighbourhood jam band.
So what is it about this 12-track effort that shines so bright? The Eternal was three years — aeons by Sonic Youth standards — in the making. The band took its time.
“We’ve been on this reliable track (putting out albums every year-and-a-half) but since we took time off for other endeavours, it took us longer to get to this,” admits Ranaldo. “All of that time was good for us to simmer. This is such a strong record, whatever time it took to make it was worth it.”
Otherwise occupied with ventures such as touring in nostalgic support of their revered 1988 effort Daydream Nation and creating a travelling museum exhibition based on their deep history, Ranaldo admits that actually getting to The Eternal seemed a bit of a chore for Sonic Youth.
However, after hunkering down, they quickly realized that the lengthy time working at it allowed the music to sink in, thereby making its recording smoother and more natural.
“We were supposed to start recording this one at the beginning of last year in February or March but it didn’t happen until September,” he notes. “We’d put it off for a month and another month. Before we knew it, eight of them had passed.”
“Once we got into our studio though, the songs just flowed so easily, we recorded them live,” he continues, pondering how patience has affected Sonic Youth.
“What you hear on the album is how the song was recorded at that moment, no overdoing. It’s the first or second take because we’d become so familiar and comfortable with the songs. Ultimately though, what it really means is that the songs are indicative of a band who’s finally comfortable with themselves.”
Sonic Youth plays
• Toronto: Massey Hall, June 30