Freed from the major-label machine that took them to a Starbucks counter near you (last year's Hits Are for Squares), Sonic Youth is kicking harder than it has since coffee was cheap. Right out of the gate, the riffs of The Eternal come out like swords slicing the airwaves. "Sacred Trickster" finds Kim Gordon yelling about being "music on a tree" while the secretly specialized guitars pogo along, cutting and grinding. "Anti-Orgasm" has Gordon finishing husband Thurston Moore's sexual-political verses over a vast, charging cascade of notes and riffs rumblin' on a playful bounce (think of the wonderful "Theresa's Sound World" from Dirty with a Blonde Redhead beat).
After 28 years, Sonic Youth has tried it all, and it seems the group has put it all—quite succinctly for a band known for wandering into the dark recesses of artsy jamming—into this phenomenal noise-rock instant-epic. As on 2006's Rather Ripped, the pop song structures they hit the radio with in the early '90s are back, now wearing all the contemplative beauty of their 21st-century canon. But where Ripped still found time to brood, The Eternal yields a fierce directness and speaker-splitting rock almost throughout. When it mellows a bit, we still get Gordon yelling: monotone, kinda shrill, musical but anti-pop, singing, like only she can, a song about the stupid girls wearing no undies for the cameras.
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Sonic Youth has found the fountain of youth: indie rock.