Lee Ranaldo – Between The Times And The Tides (Matador)

Last year Thurston Moore revealed his melodic, acoustic side on his solo album, Demolished Thoughts. It turned out to be one of 2011’s top releases. Now, fellow Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo proves that two can play at that game and the result is another excellent album.

According to Ranaldo’s liner notes, Between The Times And The Tides started out as an all-acoustic affair as well. But one thing led to another and the amps came out, along with help from the likes of Nels Cline, Jim O’Rourke and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. The result is a much louder collection of tunes than Moore’s, but they’re every bit as melodic and satisfying.

Waiting On A Dream kicks things off with a riff that is reminiscent of The Stones’ Paint It Black. It’s just enough to give the track a vaguely psychedelic vibe. With Ranaldo’s over-modulated vocals front and center, It rocks along quite nicely.

Off The Wall is a catchy, jangly track that sounds like classic-era R.E.M. Who would have thought that a member of an art-noise band like Sonic Youth would come up with a tune with such a strong hook and a great middle eight to boot?  Clocking in at three minutes, this should be a hit record.

Xtina As I Knew Her shows off Ranaldo’s darker side. The pounding drums recall classic Velvet Underground and/or Modern Lovers. The track also contains the album’s first guitar solo. It’s exciting, melodic and, at seven minutes, a great musical trip.

After the explosive Angles comes Hammer Blows. Despite its title, it’s the album’s first acoustic track. It’s a nice departure from the previous tune.

Fire Island finds Ranaldo picking up his electric guitar again and having a good wail on it. His sound here reminds me of late 60s bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service or Spirit. The lyrics are unabashedly optimistic…”today the sun is shining, it’s never gonna fade away”. After another psychedelic workout, the tune’s coda turns pastoral and just a bit country-ish.

Lost is another driving rocker that reminds me of the best of R.E.M. Ranaldo’s voice is even similar to Michael Stipe’s.

Shouts is a bit different that the other tracks. It seems to be about a woman caught in an urban riot. A female voice recites lines in the middle of the tune describing her plight. It’s tense and gripping and ambitious.

Stranded is another acoustic number, a respite from the chaos of Shouts.

The album closes with Tomorrow Never Comes a tune that sounds like the distant cousin of The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows.

The status of Sonic Youth is up in the air after the failure of Thurston Moore’s and Kim Gordon’s marriage. But if the result is work like this and Moore’s most recent solo outing, then maybe, musically at least, it’s all for the best.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Off The Wall from Between The Times And The Tides