The Eternal review by Sonic Youth

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  • Released: Jun 9, 2009
  • Sound: 9
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.3 (7 votes)
Sonic Youth: The Eternal
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Sound — 9
At last! The band has made their return to indie and noise rock! Sonic Youth signed to the independent record label Matador, and got the old bassist of Pavement, Mark Ibold, to officially be in the band. How I describe this album is taking their vintage sound and adding innovations to it. At some points on the album, it relates to their grungy pop days of the early 90's. At other points on the album, they pull you back to their naive No Wave days. Sometimes, it's one of their soft, gloomy, fragile songs. Sometimes, it's the crazy dream-scape of Daydream Nation. But, it's not just their old sounds. They have new elements. One new element they have used is actually improvising in key! Aahhhh Sonic Youth In Key! Then the ironic twist is that they go immediately back to atonal riffs and/or noise all in one song. Then, there's the opposite extreme: new noises. I can't define every noise, but it sounds different from noise attacks on other albums. And their greatest element: better sound quality. Sure they had good sound quality on their later albums in the 00's, but this album has Glorious Noise & good sound quality. Also, the bass sounds so much thicker and heavier on this album. My only complaint is that as fresh and consistent as they are, there are very few moments on the album where it's very inconsistent. A few of the songs sound too much alike, and I will point them out. 01.Sacred Trickster: the single; however, this is the 1st of inconsistencies. This song is catchy and does show their significant influence on grunge, but songs later on the album sound too much alike to this. I can tolerate just this one song though, because it's very catchy and has a funny music video. 02.Anti-Orgasm: this song on the other hand should be their single. In the riffs, you totally hear Goo resembalance. The breakdown has a crazy noise technique where it's this drilling harmonic-sound sliding down the frets. The interlude is a technique used on Kissability where one note is played while a note one step below is being played. The end reminds me of the psychedelic trips at the end of long songs on Daydream Nation. Nice use of delay effect at the ending, also. 03.Leaky Lifeboat: easy-going and content. But sometimes, there's a dramatic change of music. 04.Antenna: the riff is waaaayyy too simple and inconsistent. But the noise brings me back to Dirty's 100%. 05.What We Know: darker, but still maintaining their noisy pop. The noise breakdown here is creative. One guitarist holds notes in the key, while the other is horrible, atonal effects. 06.Calming The Snake: a more modern look at their old No Wave days. The song gives out the uselessness texture of NW, but also the power of NW. 07.Poison Arrow: their worst and dumbest song on the album. It's not really much else but some power chords. Yes, yes, yes, it's the I word again: inconsistent. 08.Malibu Gas Station: their most cynical song on the album and one of their best. Almost all of it is completely atonal. They use one of their greatest tunings on this song, C C E B G D. So you'll hear some Cross The Breeze and Disappearer resemblance. 09.Thunderclap: I word: inconsistent. (Boy I need a thesaurus.) Sounds too much like Poison Arrow and Sacred Trickster. I know they have so much more potential. So c'mon! 10.No Way: reminds me of Rather Ripped. I know I've said thank God they're indie again, but I did like their melodic years because it was still inimitable. 11.Walkin Blue: poppish riff that you might recognize from a certain song. But all of a suddenly, the chorus is melodic sounding. Their noise isn't too impressing though. 12.Massage The History: aaaahhhh, about as beautiful as Shadow of a Doubt. Beautiful acoustic guitar; there was a technique they used from the song Winners Blue that they used for this. The tuning in WB was an opened E maj. chord with some strings matching in note quality. And they prolonged the chord throughout the whole song, but added pretty melody on top of it. All in one guitar! That's what they did for this song, but it's an opened D min. The rest of the song is just mindless, peaceful jam. Not much atonality and noise, but that would probably ruin it.

Lyrics — 8
Lyrics on this album were black metal inspired. I don't know much black metal, but I think the lyric themes in black metal must be horribly dark or overly obscure. These seem like the same SY lyrical styles of sarcastic sexuality, politics, poetic, honesty, and feminism. But a touch of black metal lyrics were added so they could try something new. Well it sucks! If you don't believe me, read these lines below actually sung on songs in the album: "That's when my poodle pukes!" "Noise Nomads and me levitating on the ground!" "Robbing blood a selfless creature." "Creeping heart and frozen imperfection." "Do you understand the problem? Anti-war is anti-orgasm!" Now SY does have obscurity and some darkness in their lyrics, and I like that. And there's still some of that on this album. But sometimes, the "black metal inspired" lyrical lines stick out like a sore thumb and is excessive. Now the reason why I still gave the lyrics an eight is because they are trying new techniques in their voice. In Leaky Lifeboat, Kim, Thurston, and Lee, (I think), harmonize their voices perfectly and beautifully. Also, every singer has much more confidence in their voice. But, they still have their punkish ways in their voices. So it's like Sonic Youth became better singers while still having their signature voices. Kim, by far, is the most impressive on this album. Each song she sang lead vocals on, (Sacred Trickster, Calming The Snake, Malibu Gas Station, Massage The History), shows off a little bit of each side of what is expected of her. In Sacred Trickster, she sounds like a female grunge vocalist. In Calming The Snake, she goes back to her groans and shaky vocals. In Malibu Gas Station, you can hear her intense riot grrrl side. In Massage The History, she whispers softly like on Shadow of a Doubt or like Kazu Makino.

Overall Impression — 9
This is such a powerful return to the indie world for them. They imitate their past but don't spin wheels on what they do. Also, they really try to become better musicians. Their over-similarities on some songs is tolerable enough. And they deliver an exciting thrill all together on this album. The best songs on this album are probably Massage The History, Anti Orgasm, Malibu Gas Station, and What We Know. I would definitely buy the album again if it was stolen.

9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Lion_Slicer
    Black metal. You just mentioned black metal in a Sonic Youth review. None of the lyrics you cited seem remotely black metal, unless you just extract "blood" and "frozen." Dark lyrical themes =/= black metal. Agh I can't even tell what you mean to be honest.
    NorCalLos
    Leave this poor, illiterate elementary school kid alone. At least he/she listened to the whole album before reviewing it (presumably).
    TaV0
    what the feck? Sonic Youth ... black metal? that's not very accurate mate, I do not see how those lyrics are meant to be black metal
    bickelk
    i'm just confused. the rater gives it pretty damn good ratings and writes a brilliant introduction, but then only gives compliments to like two or three of the songs on the entire album. and the black metal comment is a joke. and the rater just throws words around (inconsistent) that dont really offer anything to the review.
    Whip It
    I think I'll review this as well, this one doesn't do much justice to Sonic Youth. Although it is my least or second least favourite by them, it's still a bloody great listen, as is everything Sonic Youth has ever put out. I respect you taking the time to rate the CD but you should figure out what the words you are saying mean. Atonal has nothing to do with being in a minor or major tone - Malibu Gas Station is not atonal. And just because Thurston Moore said some of the lyrics were black metal influenced doesn't necessarily mean that they are black metal lyrics.