After 30+ years of Sonic Youth, it’s not that easy any more for the band’s members to spring any surprises. But Lee Ranaldo’s done that with his latest solo LP ‘Between the Times and the Tides’.

Principally that’s because BTTATT is a song based record which differs from Lee’s previous much more experimental solo LPs. That’s quite exciting for me as (and I’ve said this before) Lee’s songs are always amongst my favourites on any SY record.

It’s worth stating up front that BTTATT is something of a grower. I might even have been disappointed at first listen had I not previously heard download track ‘Off The Wall’. Even though it’s effectively a three minute pop song it didn’t make much of an impression on me on the first couple of listens but its hooks really snuck up and mugged me on the third or fourth listen.

And that experience is roughly the blueprint for the rest of the record, particularly on side 2 (unusually for a modern LP even on CD the track listing is so labelled.)

If you’re looking for any Sonic Youth style guitar squall then it is there but pretty much restricted to the first side even if something like ‘Angel’ also includes some very Doors-y keyboards. Presumably the sequencing is not unconnected with trying to ease SY fans into the record.

Yet, despite the likes of the noisier songs like ‘Waiting On A Dream’ and ‘Xtina as I Knew her’ Side 1 also includes the aforementioned ‘Off The Wall’ and the largely acoustic ‘Hammer Blows’ (which latterly reminds me of some of Julian Cope’s psychedelic folk.)

‘Fire Island (Phases)’ does take us back into noise rock territory at the start of Side 2 but that’s largely limited to its extended SY-like intro and it’s Side 2 that really shows Ranaldo in a new light.

Most of these songs aren’t as obvious and only truly reveal themselves after several plays. Highlight of the second side is the utterly gorgeous ‘Shouts’, with its very atypical use of pedal steel.

What you get therefore with BTTATT is a view of Ranaldo’s songwriting through a different musical prism. Whereas Thurston Moore has made a conscious decision to distance himself from SY by using principally acoustic instruments on his last 2 records, Ranaldo actually manages to escape the long shadow of his band without losing the electric guitars.

With Sonic Youth on hiatus at the moment, ‘Between the Times and the Tides’ and Thurston’s ‘Trees Outside the Academy’ make me wonder if we might not actually be better off if the band all went their separate ways. At least up to a point.

For my money, the best LP of the year so far.

Buy ‘Between the Times and the Tides’ in all good record shops or online here.

Lee brings his band to Europe at the end of May for the following announced dates.

May 31 Barcelona – Primavera –
June 2 Dudingen – Kilbi –
3 Paris – La Maroquinerie –
4 Antwerp – Trix –
6 London – Scala –
7 Leeds – Brudenell –
9 Porto – Primavera –

Leeds looks awfy tempting …

A live version of one of the noisier tracks (actually probably the one that sounds most like SY!) on the record:

and one of the quieter ones: