Now beginning their third decade, Sonic Youth are aging better than any rock group I can think of. On their newest album, Murray Street (DGC), they continue along the trajectory established by 1998's A Thousand Leaves: Where their 80s work had a hard, implacable drive, today they can make similarly motorik beats seem relaxed. And the sheets and arcs of guitar noise between tunes feel like reveries, more nuanced and musical than ever--the band seems to have control over them, rather than the other way around. Guitarist and vocalist Thurston Moore has taken to calling Murray Street the group's "classic rock album," and on "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style," whose beat-poet lyrics recall 2000's NYC Ghosts & Flowers, he pays tribute to heroes from his teenage years: "From dust to dust, they create rock 'n' roll / Here comes something, you are Lou Reed / Transform the crowds by the backyard stream." But despite the rhetoric, the record's most immediately appealing riffs ("The Empty Page," "Karen Revisited") are hardly fist pumpers; instead they're hazy and subtle. And while the songs are the band's poppiest since 1995's Washing Machine, they frequently dissolve into (or coalesce out of) the kind of textural drift that's always been part of Sonic Youth's music, in one form or another. The Krautrockish "Rain on Tin" begins lazy and stretched out but gains focus with a deadpan, pointillistic guitar pattern that gets brighter and harder as it repeats. And "Karen Revisited," sung by guitarist Lee Ranaldo, marries Murray Street's most effective, forward-moving melody--with lyrics that update "Karen Koltrane," from A Thousand Leaves--to a feedback-strewn breakdown and lightly psychedelic coda dappled with judiciously applied wah-wah, all shaped by rising-sandstorm dynamics. Both shows are sold-out. Saturday and Sunday, August 17 and 18, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Stefano Giovannini.