Album Review: Lee Ranaldo

between the time and tides (pias)

Sonic Youth veteran Lee Ranaldo just recently released his solo LP Between The Times And Tides, and in a fairly unexpected turn of events (from the point of view of SY fans at least), it turns out that even avant-garde experimental noise-gods can do 'songs' when the wind blows in the right direction. And do them rather well.

Now I'll freely admit - Sonic Youth occupy a place for me unmentionably far above what I reply when asked 'My Favourite Bands'. Daydream Nation quite literally rewired my brain, they sound like how my mind works, and well - look, you get the point - I'm a bit of a fan. Likewise do a slightly less psychotic degree for each member's solo/collaborative work. So when, instead of a way-out-there, feedback-fed, pendulum-Jazzmaster voyage into the outer reaches of aural possibilities, Ranaldo goes off in what could almost be said a 'mainstream' direction, I was surprised, disappointed and wrote off BtTaT after just a first listen.

What a fool. Luckily however, after a few weeks my inner fascist calmed down and when I noticed someone mention that the LP was one of their favourites of the year so far (thanks Tony), I decided to have another go with my knees firmly tied down to over-rule any 'jerk' reactions. Not going to say I'm now completely converted to the idea but can see I was somewhat stupid and the album is definitely one with great value, but in an unforeseen new way.

Play through the single Off The Wall a few times and the light begins to shine.

Preconceptions aside, it's a pretty damn good jangly pop tune - and its attraction just seems to grow and grow. The track itself comes as the second on the album and is preceded by Waiting On A Dream, which although it comes close to being a slight weird-out on Paint It Black, makes a good opener as it does sound a little minor keyed and SY-ish, but blended through with a more 60s, psychedelic feel. Which overall is pretty much where a lot of the LP lies in terms of style. It's not up in your face, its melodic but with unusual 'undertones'. The dark/light theme often appears in the switches between verse/chorus/bridge sections, and makes for a really interesting listen - Best example: Xtina As I Knew Her perhaps.

Pavement. There's a reasonably informative comparison - but a less lo-fi Pavement, as it's in the structure of the songs that most similarities appear to my ears. A bit wonky but still tuneful enough that your parents might find themselves humming the odd bit now and then. The kind of generic American Rock that will appear as 'folk' music in a few centuries. That sounds bad, But it's not intended that way - It's simply very good at nailing that genre that spans from The Byrds to Dinosaur Jr. and beyond.

As you may have picked up, I'm pretty much liking BtTaT more than I expected and to some extent against my own will, but one or two tracks do tip the balance in its favour - As mentioned Off The Wall is a confirmed 'grower' but it's the acoustic-driven number Hammer Blows that does the best job of turning my initial opinion, somehow on this one Lee's vocals fit perfectly over the more laid-back, poetic feel of the song.

My main stalling point for not quite 'getting' what Ranaldo is doing on the album (when Sonic Youth expectations put aside) has been due to something of a mismatch bewtween his voice and lyrics, and the style of most of the songs. I'm not sure he's the best vocalist for standard 'songy' songs. By contrast take for example J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. There's something of a parallel in the feel of the music, but J has the strong, characterful voice to stand out wheras I'm not sure Ranaldo does. It's only on the more open, chilled tracks (such as the above-mentioned Hammer Blows and also the more country-esque Stranded) that the vocals/lyrics seem to dovetail in nicely to the atmophere of the tracks.

But, I have a feeling that I'm going to get over even that as a criticism - So far Ranaldo's album has been sneakily sinking into my bones and making itself at home, and I'm glad I'm having my mind changed about it. It seems somehow appropriate that if, as it may or may not be, Between The Times And Tides is Lee's first 'post-Sonic-Youth' LP he's to some extent returned to the melodic, psychedlic, Byrds/Grateful Dead kind of sound that if my SY history is correct, he was doing way back in the day before any of this experimental malarky. But still with that odd hint of something a bit weirder rolling on beneath.