We weren’t prepared for the dissolution of Sonic Youth in 2011. An alternative-rock institution for three decades, the band’s last few records were of such high quality, fans were entitled to question whether they’d sold their souls to an ungodly demon to achieve the kind of perpetual, everlasting prime that was suggested by their band name. (The final record was, funny enough, called The Eternal.) No, nothing lasts forever, but with seemingly so much creative juice left in the tank, it’s no shock that each member has continued to thrive post-Youth.
Lee Ranaldo’s songwriting contributions usually came out to just one or two tracks per album, so it always seemed likely that his creative dam would burst outside of the group. Tracks like “Xtina As I Knew Her” and “New Thing” are classic Ranaldo—melodic cuts with textural guitar licks and slightly sardonic vocals. The latter track closes his fine 2017 album Electric Trim, which sees the guitarist testing the borders of his sound, working with north African grooves and electro-tinted folk.
Thurston Moore seems the most interested in continuity. With an emphasis on gentle melodies and lengthy, spacious guitar sections, tracks like “Speak to the Wild” and “Smoke of Dreams” sound like first cousins of latter-day Sonic Youth cuts. However, his collaboration with Yoko Ono and former bandmate Kim Gordon on the challenging avant-garde record YOKOKIMTHURSTON allowed Moore to indulge his experimental inclinations.
Connecting the work of Ranaldo and Moore has been drummer Steve Shelley, who has continued to back his ex-Sonic Youth comrades, as well as Admiral Freebee and Sun Kil Moon, among others. Meanwhile, Jim O’Rourke, a member from 1999 to 2005, has built a fine solo catalogue (mostly unavailable on Spotify) without losing the producer/session-musician spirit that has seen him orbit the alt-rock scene for years. Recent team-ups has included work with Vova Zen.
But among all of Sonic Youth’s alumni, Gordon has been the most free-ranging. She’s released just one track under her own name, but what a track! The bass-heavy, blood-thirsty “Murdered Out” is a thunderous rocker: “You get lost, murdered out of my heart,” she asserts with a fierce punch. Elsewhere, the Wild Style Lion team-up “Lovewasinme” runs as barbed as a subway train wrapped in razor wire, while the rumbling, tuneless “Last Mistress”—released with guitarist Bill Nace under the name Body/Head—offers a freaky bedrock for her breathy vocals, forever one of indie rock’s most cutting instruments.
This playlist isn’t an attempt to piece together a kind of lost Sonic Youth album, as though pulling together tracks could forge a singular, cohesive record that never was. (Besides, latter-day bassist Mark Ibold, who has kept a low-profile of late, isn’t here at all). Instead, it acts as a sampler of the fine music the band’s former members continue to create—songs that honour their history without stifling the ambition that powered their peerless oeuvre.