If you’re a fan of Sonic Youth, you ought to be familiar with the guitarist and prolific musician, Lee Ranaldo. From day one, Ranaldo had been composing and releasing with the infamous group. Furthermore, the artist has released a few of his own albums –and he’s at it again. Impressively, the musician has conjured up all of his creative energy for his newest album, Electric Trim.
Electric Trim kicks off with some raga-reminiscent strings and spoken word. Ranaldo attempts to pave come across as oddly placed against the acoustic guitars that seemingly draw some inspiration from Fahey-primitive guitar. The opening track, “Moroccan Mountains,” gains momentum, Ranaldo shouts out a ‘yip’. The acoustic guitars rush faster. The track takes on another new time signature and seemingly changes form again. Please, make it stop.
From the beginning of Electric Trim I was skeptical. I tried to find every reason to not enjoy the album –“It’s not Thurston Moore,” I’d say. But Ranaldo is still responsible for part of Sonic Youth’s success and such a criticism isn’t fair. Furthermore, there is merit to his release –the album is packed with plenty of neat ideas, but that’s where the issue really lies.
Lee Ranaldo seemingly reaches for the 70’s rock/pop vibe and along the way muddies the water with his artistic antics. The album rarely ever feels consistent with itself as Ranaldo seeks out the next interesting sound. It’s not that Ranaldo’s ideas are bad, but they feel poorly slapped together and, often times, dated. His off-color spoken lyrics like, “You need to keep the skeleton entertained,” never seem to satisfy. Electric Trim is almost like a made-for-tv movie. Sure, it’s got the full length and a big name behind it, but the vision doesn’t seem clear and the end product suffers as a result. I’d like to say that each song is unique, but every minute feels unique, and it’s exhausting. I’m glad I have that out of my system.
The album reaches its third track, “Let’s Start Again.” Ranaldo gains a sentimental vibe with hefty keys and some simple, slow guitar lines. It’s surprisingly bluesy compared to the energetic beginning of the album. Ranaldo recites several lyrical lines that carry a certain poeticism. And then the man does it again. Ranaldo creates a split in an otherwise fine song. He adds a slew of distorted screeches. It’s almost industrial. A perfectly okay song becomes unnecessarily complicated.
The follow-up track, nearly saves the day –nearly. “Last Looks,” begins with a fairly enjoyable duet between Ranaldo and Sharon Van Etten. The vocals are airy and the mood is relaxed. Half-way through, the song takes on a major change, the composition becomes chipper, fast-paced –I had to doublecheck to make sure that “Last Looks” was in fact still playing. Ranaldo begins his spoken word piece again, and then carries on with a more Bon Jovi-esque, rock approach.
I’m just not sure Electric Trim works. Unfortunately, much of the album continues with this same approach. Every good idea is quickly stifled by Ranaldo’s attempt to pack too much into one song. It’s absolutely dizzying. For instance, later in the album, “Purloined,” takes on a rather grungy vibe. Some guitars work their way around lower notes, creating a hefty atmosphere. His transition to vocals feels a bit off-kilter, the track finishes with blaring, last-minute horns.
From start to finish, Electric Trim feels burdensome. I don’t want to call it bad music, but it certainly isn’t easy to listen to. Lee Ranaldo’s wild styling, his constant changes, and unfocused composition are difficult to deal with. The album isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t good –and it certainly isn’t easy to listen to. Lee Ranaldo’s Electric Trim is a difficult recommendation; but if you’re into 70’s rock, spoken word, music for the sake of art, compositional alchemy, or shapeshifting –look no further. Ranaldo’s wildly eclectic style has you covered.