Freed from the major-label machine that took them to a Starbucks counter near you (last year’s Hits Are for Squares), Sonic Youth are kicking harder than they have since coffee was cheap. Right out of the gate, riffs come out like swords slicing the airwaves. “Sacred Trickster” finds Kim Gordon yelling about being “music on a tree” while the secretly specialized guitars pogo along, cutting and grinding. “Anti-Orgasm” has her finishing husband Thurston Moore’s sexual-political verses over a vast, charging cascade of notes and riffs rumblin’ on a playful bounce (think of the wonderful “Theresa’s Sound World” from Dirty with a Blonde Redhead beat).
After 28 years, Sonic Youth have tried it all, and it seems they’ve put it all—quite succinctly for a band known for wandering into the dark recesses of artsy jamming—into this phenomenal noise-rock instant epic. As on 2006’s Rather Ripped, the pop song structures they hit the radio with in the early ’90s are back, now wearing all the contemplative beauty of their 21st-century canon. But where Ripped still found time to brood, The Eternal yields a fierce directness and speaker-splitting rock almost throughout. “Antenna” slows, but it’s one of the most emotionally accessible odes they’ve penned, with Moore sighing, “Radios play nothing when she’s far away” over a chorus that sounds like a train pulling away. “What We Know” takes the tribal rhythm from Radiohead’s “There There” and gives it a primal thrashing like the band haven’t done since the days of Evol. The charge continues, song by song. When it mellows a bit, we still get Gordon yelling: monotone, kinda shrill, musical but anti-pop; singing like only she can a song about the stupid girls wearing no undies for the cameras.
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Sonic Youth have found the fountain of youth. It’s indie rock.