The vibe on Between The Times And The Tides, the new solo album by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, is very Big Chill. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Ranaldo has reached the age where looking back replaces looking forward, and these 10 songs are filled more with vague images and blurry forms than living, breathing people. They are the ghosts along Ranaldo’s memory trail.
Ranaldo assembled an impressive cast of old friends for Between The Times, including Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and guitarist Jim O’Rourke, Text Of Light collaborator Alan Licht, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, keyboardist John Medeski, and Pussy Galore percussionist Bob Bert. (Ranaldo’s wife, artist Leah Singer, also contributes vocals.) Together they join Ranaldo on songs that chart the travels and affairs of a man who has spent more than half his life as a nomadic musician. On “Waiting On A Dream,” he takes a late-night flight out for a quick meeting with a lover; on “Xtina As I Knew Her,” he looks back on a lonely party girl frozen in time. The album concludes with a halo above a friend’s head and a raging Nels Cline guitar solo on the forward-thrusting “Tomorrow Never Comes,” as both the title and Shelley’s beat nod to The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Unlike the chamber-folk departure of Thurston Moore’s 2011 solo album Demolished Thoughts, Ranaldo’s songs mostly adhere to a guitar-driven melancholic-pop mold, with songs like “Off The Wall,” “Angles,” and “Lost” recalling Sonic Youth’s 2006 effort Rather Ripped as well as early R.E.M. In spite of its overarching “aging rocker reflects” theme, Between The Times is a rollicking, windows-down rock album. Ranaldo may be traveling down a familiar road, but it’s with exuberance rather than teary-eyed nostalgia.