Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

In/Out/In offers a glimpse into Sonic Youth’s final decade


Release date: 18 March 2022
Sonic youth in out in art
18 March 2022, 09:52 Written by Alex Nguyen
When Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and later Lee Ranaldo formed Sonic Youth in 1981, they mostly hung around the experimental no wave scene and were a far cry from one of the most prominent alternative rock acts of all time.

Their big breakthrough didn’t happen until the late ‘80s when drummer Steve Shelley joined the group and the band released the noise rock album EVOL under the label SST Records. They brought alternate guitar tunings, feedback-drenched noise, and unique song structures to the mainstream in the ‘90s and headlined Lollapalooza. In the 2000s, the band fell back into being slightly more relaxed but still threatened to explode into a whirlwind of sound at any moment.

After 30 years together, the band broke up – not because their creativity or desire to keep going had petered out but rather the messy and public divorce of Moore and Gordon. The band members have stated that they won’t be getting back together, so all that remains is their past studio albums and a handful of unreleased tracks including those on In/Out/In.

The album is a compilation of five rare songs recorded throughout the 2000s. The opener “Basement Contender” has a cheerful tone where the separate guitar lines neatly complement each other. At the end, Ranaldo asks “Are you tuned to anything? Are you tuned to a tuner?”. The guitars don't seem to have had an issue.

The similarly-named tracks “In & Out” and “Out & In” were first physically released in 2011 but were recorded a decade apart. The former came from a soundcheck in 2010 from the band's final North American tour. It adds calming guitar twangs to Gordon's breathy vocals and flows in a sort of directionless manner. With a repetitive and bare beat, there's no real sonic progression on this track. However, the latter is a highlight on the album. It's an instrumental jam that starts off steadily enough before growing into something increasingly violent and distorted towards the end.

“Machine” comes from The Eternal sessions in 2008 and stands out as the only short cut on the tracklist. The song is led by Steve Shelley’s cymbal-heavy drumming while the guitars riff on a repeating melody. Its jarring guitar sounds are reminiscent of the band's late '80s output. "Social Static" is a track from the Jim O'Rourke era. Its harsh, experimental noise sounds similar to the band's late '90s run when they released records independently to avoid the pressure of having to fit within the bounds of a commercial major label.

The five tracks here sound largely like works-in-progress as they lack cohesion and the full effect of songs on their studio albums. Instead, it's as if listeners are catching a glimpse of Sonic Youth in the process of developing their instrumental jams into something greater. And with this album being a collection of tracks from the band's back catalog, it's hard to ask for anything more.

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