Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Lee Ranaldo

  • Between the Times and the Tides [Matador, 2012] A-
  • Electric Trim [Mute, 2017] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Between the Times and the Tides [Matador, 2012]
Never much of a singer even by Sonic Youth standards and always abrasive solo, Ranaldo applies his best-in-band chops to riffage and filigree so lovely his well-meaning and far from altogether tuneless plainsong has the welcome effect of situating the guitar in the same reality occupied by his lyrics, which always make sense and often seem a mere detail away from total lucidity. Throughout he recaptures the repose of A Thousand Leaves's "Hoarfrost," his will to reconciliation and renewal always palpable whether the songs reach out or recalibrate his options. Just the album you'd hope from a thoughtful 56-year-old after his band of 30 years breaks up. Best in show is "Angles," a love song to someone he knows well and can always stand to know better. Not a bandmate, either. A-

Electric Trim [Mute, 2017]
In the Sonic Youth days, Ranaldo's solo forays were even further out than Kim's or Thurston's, but that was then. Now he's that lost band's only committed bandleader. Sometimes dubbed the Dust, it's a good one, assured and realistic and dissonant: Alan Licht guitar, Tim Luntzel bass, Steve Shelley drums. Insofar as it doesn't energize the base, that's probably because its emotional center is equanimity, an emotional state less sexy than the similar calm--it's too cerebral, too achieved. Impressed myself, I attribute it to some combination of limited vocal compass and getting the divorce out of the way when he was young--his first Dust album bears the credit "Lyric consultant, muse, etc.: Leah Singer," his wife-collaborator since 1991. The selling point of album three is that Jonathan Lethem cowrote five of the nine lyrics, including those that turn on "But it's always the same thing--you had a view of your own / Everyday feelings--like seeds that get sown," "Are you scared of a woman's love? (No-no-no I'm not) / Are you scared of a man's love? (No-no-no I'm not)," and "You've got everything, that diamond ring / Some fine time left to die / So listen closely to your own sweet talk of nuthin'." But they're no better than Ranaldo's solely-writtens, the most striking "Let's Start Again," which has a happy ending--even a happy middle. A-