Sonic Youth have been negotiating a tense accord between pop and art since 1982, when they first welded sheets of Branca-esque guitar noise to a rock 'n' roll chassis to create their mind-blowing debut EP. On each album after that, to the disappointment of some and the delight of others, they increasingly emphasized the pop side, slaking their thirst for adventure in side projects. But they pulled an about-face on the 1995 disc Washing Machine, whose 20-minute closing track, "The Diamond Sea," incorporated freewheeling instrumental passages informed by guitarists Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's work with improvisers like Tom Surgal and William Hooker. And last year the group gave even freer rein to its experimental impulses on the three mostly instrumental Musical Perspectives EPs, which served as both reports on the album in progress and outlets for music too sprawling for inclusion on it. The pieces ranged from elongated rock jams ("Slaapkamers met Slagroom") to dense noise assaults ("Mieux: De Corrosion") to drifting sound collages ("Radio-Amatoroj," recorded with Jim O'Rourke). The brand-new proper album, A Thousand Leaves (DGC), incorporates the EPs' out sounds into open-ended songs. Those sung by Moore are meditations on either end of the life cycle; two are odes to his and bassist-guitarist Kim Gordon's toddler, Coco, while "Hits of Sunshine" reacts to the death of Allen Ginsberg. Ranaldo's two vocal turns are similarly elegiac. But Gordon's tracks are the most challenging: "Contre le Sexisme," "Female Mechanic Now on Duty," and "The Ineffable Me" are fueled by an explicitly feminist rage that's matched by the record's most ferocious music. Reports from recent concerts indicate that they're mainly playing songs from the new record. The rest of the night's lineup is also well worth seeing: Chicagoan Kevin Drumm and New Zealand's Dean Roberts, aka White Winged Moth, are compelling guitar experimentalists, and Dutch punks the Ex are never less than amazing. Saturday, 7 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212. BILL MEYER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Christian Lantry.