Song of the Week (8) – Lee Ranaldo

Lee Ranaldo – Summerhall, Edinburgh – November 2016

The release of a new video from Lee Ranaldo’s wonderful ‘Electric Trim’ album is not just an opportunity to give the fomer Sonic Youth man the latest song of the week but also to offer a review of the record.

First off though here’s the new video for an edited version of ‘Uncle Skeleton’ from the album:

Although Lee previewed much of the record on his UK tour last year, the album itself has only been out for a few weeks now. Yet, to be honest, it’s taken a good proportion of that time for me to properly process its 9 songs.

Arguably ‘Electric Trim’ can be described as developing the best parts of Lee’s first two solo records, before adding some new elements to create one coherent and improved package.

The debut ‘Between the Times & the Tides’ had a lot of great songs on it but still felt like a transitional record between his Sonic Youth past and his solo future. On the other hand, whilst ‘Last Night on Earth’ had shaken off that past, for me its songs didn’t, by and large, live up to the standard of the first record.

Against that background, I wasn’t initially certain about ‘Electric Trim’ as it seemed a bit rambling. However both ‘Circular (Right As Rain)’ and ‘Purloined’ are direct songs and they offered the first route into the record. But on the early plays I still found it harder to get into the remainder of the album .

The songs certainly aren’t conventionally arranged, there’s changes of tempo aplenty and songs often move through different phases, with some sudden bursts of noise added in. It’s a lot to take in at first and the complex structures were to some extent a barrier to enjoying the full album. But, even then, it was clear that the songs undeniably contained hooks and on repeated listens I began to put the pieces together.

So ‘Thrown Over The Wall’ went from being a song that relied entirely on its chorus to one that made total sense overall whilst closing track ‘New Thing’, which I initially thought struggled to escape its nod to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, ultimately came into focus.

In some ways ‘Electric Trim’ is Ranaldo at his most sonically adventurous, with flourishes such as the subtle use of electronica or the brass at the end of ‘Purloined’ adding an extra dimension to the record.

Yet unlike ‘Tides’ ‘Electric Trim’ never feels a like a hotpotch due to the production and his grasp of melody which unify the disparate strands. To the extent that, after these early doubts, I now think that this is the best album that any of the former Sonic Youth members have been involved with since at least ‘Nurse’ (although to be fair Thurston’s ‘Rock and Rock Consciousness’ from earlier in the year is a fine record as well).

My recommendation then is to get ‘Electric Trim’– and lose yourself in repeated plays. You won’t regret it.

The full set of photos from Lee’s Summerhall gig last year, together with a few of Kristin Hersh the following night can be found here.