Rotation

Sonic Youth
nyc ghosts & flowers
Geffen

Melancholy often feels good. It can be a restorative, reflective state. Unlike depression, melancholy holds a certain glow, the enlightenment of realizing the glass is always exactly half full and half empty. Bleakness, on the other hand, is a void. If any sensations break through, they are often either isolation or pain. Bleakness is simple to express. Melancholy, not so. Sonic Youth's nyc ghosts & flowers lies somewhere in between.

From the opener, "free city rhymes," through the largely instrumental closer, "lightnin'," Sonic Youth's latest release seems to be an exorcism of New York City angst. Sure, part of the band's appeal has always been its ability to bring Big Apple hipness to the rubes out west. Typically the band throws at least one or two big-city thrills in there per recording, something to get the blood moving, if only through disorientation. nyc ghosts & flowers, by contrast, has the occasional loud passage but never really goes anywhere. "renegade princess" hits a rock stride, but only during its second half. And "nevermind (what was it anyway)" includes a hook that could get stuck in your head like the best of Britney.

Only "small flowers crack concrete" gets close to revealing what's really going on here. Beginning with a spoken-word bit regarding the brutality of "the man," the song eventually gets around to asking: "What didjoo expect? Another mystic wreck? / That's whatchoo got crawling in your panic net / What didjoo bring me? Not a goddam thing, yeah / What didjoo leave me? Another tombstone dream, yeah." This is Sonic Youth, lamenting at its finest.

Perhaps nyc ghosts & flowers' strongest moment is "streamXsonik subway," a blending of the future with the present and the psychedelic with the earthbound that's so seamless you quickly lose track of which is which. The music moves with purpose, yet without much substance, allowing the fine lyrics to resonate without clutter. It represents a rare departure on an album that seems more an act of private musing than purposeful creation.

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Chris Smith