At this point, only the most wildly optimistic of Sonic Youth fans would expect any further collective output from the band.
Their split in 2011, enforced by well-documented factors unrelated to the creative process, has at least answered the question of what it might be like if the individual members of the group had pursued solo careers outright rather than simply dabble with their own work in between Youth releases. Thurston Moore toyed with acoustic atmospherics on Demolished Thoughts before returning to his noisy, avant garde roots with The Next Day and Rock and Roll Consciousness. Kim Gordon never really left weirdness behind, becoming part of the experimental duos Body/Head and Glitterbust.
Lee Ranaldo’s pursuits, similarly, have been pretty true to his contributions to Sonic Youth, leaning towards freewheeling indie rock whilst retaining an exploratory edge. 2012’s Between the Times and the Tides was an effervescent, highly melodic affair, and its 2013 follow-up, Last Night on Earth. felt like a counterpoint, expanding his sound considerably with sprawling jams and subtle touches of psychedelia. Four years on, he taps back into both albums whilst continuing to forge new ground with Electric Trim.
His last record was Acoustic Dust in 2014, which reimagined many of Last Night on Earth’s tracks with an acoustic guitar and pared-back instrumentation, and he brings some of that flavour into these new songs; there’s points at which the album’s title feels like a red herring, not least on the rollicking opener “Moroccan Mountains”, which - like a slew of other tracks here - favours the acoustic six-string over the electric. There’s moments, too, that see both work in harmony - “Uncle Skeleton” has the former rolling away in the background, whilst the latter drops in and out with riffs and signature Ranaldo feedback.
It’s on that same track that we receive a pointed reminder that perhaps lyricism has’t always been his strong suit; “the face bone’s connected to the hand bone / bite the hand that the skeleton feeds!” he announces nonsensically as the music falls away, suggesting that this is the one line he really wanted us to hear. Indeed, Ranaldo’s never really been much of a singer and you sense that he knows it, which is perhaps why his vocals tend to lapse into semi-spoken word on a fairly frequent basis. Happily, he’s nothing if not well-connected, and Sharon Van Etten is quite the friend to be able to call upon for backup. If anything, she’s underemployed, appearing on six of Electric Trim’s nine tracks but only escaping the background on “Last Looks”, an out-and-out duet and - not surprisingly - the album’s standout.
Like the rest of Ranaldo’s work post-Youth, this is a record that suggests that he was perhaps always the member of the band that had the most traditional songwriting sensibilities, and this is once again a thoroughly solid alt-rock effort with just enough of an adventurous slant - particularly, the flashes here and there of glitchy electronic textures - to please casual fans of his old outfit. Diehard Youth followers will probably find their thirst for innovation better slaked by Moore or Gordon, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t find comfort in Ranaldo’s consistency, too.