Lee Ranaldo - Between the Times and the Tides - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Lee Ranaldo - Between the Times and the Tides

by Alexis Somerville Rating:7 Release Date:2012-03-26

Guitarist Lee Ranaldo is a founding member of Sonic Youth, but his songwriting history with the band has often been restricted to one or two tracks per album, if that. Between the Times and the Tides is his first 'song-based' solo album (the other eight having been experimental, instrumental affairs). Here he collaborates with a bunch of respected musicians, including Jim O'Rourke and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, Wilco's Nels Cline and guitarist Alan Licht.

Of course, there's a question hanging over this solo outing: What will become of Sonic Youth? After 27 years of marriage, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced their separation in October. Long-term musical collaborators, they gave hope to the masses that it really could be done; that is, functioning as both a romantic pairing and a highly creative team for - what - a lifetime? Apparently not.

Despite his back seat in the Sonic Youth songwriting machine, Ranaldo is the guiding force behind some great tracks, notably 'Hey Joni', 'Eric's Trip' and 'Rain King' on the seminal Daydream Nation album. As the future of the band remains uncertain, I'm among the many Sonic Youth fans curious to find out what Ranaldo can achieve solo.

Just as Ranaldo can't escape the Moore/Gordon context for the album's release, it's also hard to avoid comparison between this and his Sonic Youth output, as well as the solo work of Thurston Moore. 'Off the Wall' sounds like a reworking of Moore's 'Fri/End', with similar guitar parts, pace and melody. Ah, the perils of working together for 30 years. It also happens to be a highlight of Between the Times and the Tides, as is 'Xtina As I Knew Her', with its winding guitar intro and fuzzy Sonic Youth dissonance. 'Fire Island (Phases)' is reminiscent of the band's more psychedelic stuff.

The lyrics are a low point; nursery-rhyme simple, relying heavily on rhyming at the expense of meaning. This is especially grating on 'Hammer Blows', perhaps just because the song centres around the vocals more than the other tracks: "Everything comes to a stop/I'm here on Rocky Top… We talked about your sanity/but not of your vanity." 'Stranded' is of the same ilk: "Don't want to throw a wrench in the works/but this whole town here is full of jerks/If a cloud is in your eye/I'll remove it from the sky." Hello, rhyming dictionary. I found these songs (along with the forgettable 'Lost') to be the weakest of the album; it's too hard to get past the cringe factor and derivative Neil Young stylings.

As much as I want Ranaldo to have his moment in the sun, and to provide a welcome distraction from the possible breakdown of the band, the aspects of the album I like are the ones which remind me most unmistakeably of Sonic Youth (and Thurston Moore's solo album Trees Outside the Academy). Ranaldo is unquestionably a talented guitarist and singer. He's surrounded by equally gifted, distinctive-sounding friends inside the recording and out, all of whom influence the music. It's a decent rock album, just not quite the sum of its parts.

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