Sonic Youth

Jim O'Rourke--the producer and fifth member partially responsible for the blissed-out, borderline jam-band approach of Murray Street and Sonic Nurse--is out of the Sonic Youth picture now, and Rather Ripped acknowledges his departure in a bewildering way. The sprawl's been contained, and in the absence of their recent works' breathing room, they've put together their most straight-ahead, compact pop-rock record since 1994's Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.

Rather Ripped also seems to have Jet Set's sense of simple stasis. There's still a thrill in listening to the way Steve Shelley's drumming snakes around the guitar rhythms, and the coda to "Jams Run Free" is a vigorously ebullient peak that ranks up there with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo's greatest exchanges. Most of the riffs and hooks, though, are pared down to a base of blueprint indie-rock guitar, pleasant enough for Yo La Tengo, at least. Consequently, there's less to distract from the vocals. Kim Gordon has rarely sounded raspier, and many lyrics stand out for the wrong reasons: "Sleeping Around" is strangely rudimentary ("What you did was wrong/What did you good is gone/Nothing you do is right/Always ends up in a fight"), and "Incinerate" throws around workaday fire metaphors that are less Ginsberg than Carrabba. Chalk it up to a transitional regrouping effort maybe, but hang on to "Do You Believe in Rapture?"--the way it meshes delicate minimalism and breathless wonder with teeth-on-tinfoil feedback and pre-apocalypse tension might be the real reason the rest of the album sounds ordinary.

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