Lee Ranaldo - Electric Trim - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Lee Ranaldo - Electric Trim

by Warwick Stubbs Rating:7 Release Date:2017-09-15

In Alexis Somerville’s 2012 review of Between the Tides and Time “The lyrics are a low point; nursery-rhyme simple...” was the verdict on Ranaldo’s approach to verse. In the acoustic setting of 2014’s Acoustic Dust, I found this simplicity endearing and honest. On Electric Trim it feels more like beat poet ramblings.

This time around Ranaldo has teamed up with author Jonathan Lethem (Gun, with Occasional Music) to co-write lyrics for six of the album tracks, producer Paul Fernandez helps provide subtle electronic beats in places, and guest musicians include New Jersey singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten who also duets on 'Last Looks'.

The opener ‘Moroccan Mountains’ takes the listener for a seven and a half minute jaunt through simple rhymes that left me siding with Somerville’s verdict. The accompanying Moroccan instrumentation adds contrasting flavours, but it’s hard to get past “I’m not going to lie to you but I might break your nose, everyone you loved will try on all your clothes.” It's hard to know where Ranaldo is coming from in this line, but it seems highly problematic, at least to anyone who might see it being aimed at a partner. ‘Uncle Skeleton’ takes a much more levelled rock approach and is lyrically focussed: “If flesh is a curtain, if flesh is a mask, if flesh is a love song to deceive, skeleton waiting for a higher task, mustn’t let the skeleton leave; the face-bone’s connected to the hand-bone, bite the hand that the skeleton feeds – then put that hand deep in your pocket, don’t you know this skeleton has needs?” A lot of this is gibberish, and not particularly deep, but at least it’s been perfectly set up by the first verse’s descriptions of removing flesh to expose the skeleton.

There are moments of Neil Young’s acoustic melodies in ‘Let’s Start Again’ and surprising moments of non-rhyming lyrics that caught me off-guard. But this sentimental ode to starting again “now life is overflowing, start again embrace this end” coupled with a catchy melody had me singing along in no time.

There are also moments of Beatlesque psychedelia in ‘Circular Right as Rain’ with it’s five second ‘A Day in the Life’ chaotic build-ups, and the title track’s Eastern Music’s overtones, combined with some flugelhorn and trumpets in the background while the vocal and lyrics “Are you frightened of a women’s love / Are you frightened of a man’s love (no, no, no, I’m not)” feel pulled straight out of the Seventies. A raucous electric solo takes the song to it’s peak before returning to the acoustic foundations.

While there are missteps in the lyrical approach – there’s simply no need to force rhymes, especially if they end up with a problematic tinge to them – the album overall is a strong effort. It's hard to know what influence Lethem had on the lyrics – how much is derived directly from his pen – on just listening, but Ranaldo's simplicity for images and sentimental thoughts shine through. There are dynamics, electric guitars feel like they ‘trim’ the edges of the acoustic guitars, vocals are confident, instrumentation varies but the album still manages to capture one overall sound. Occasionally songs drag on too long (‘Moroccan Mountains’ and ‘Thrown Over the Wall’), but most give the listener a pleasant listening experience with variety.

Ranaldo is at his best when he’s not trying to be lyrically deep, but lyrically honest; when his music isn’t trying to recapture something from the past, but instead, in its simplicity, capturing something from the heart.

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