Sonic Youth has always taken both parts of its name seriously, by combining ear-splitting noise with a heightened, not-always-ironic awareness of what interests kids today. The New York art-punkers’ new album The Eternal—which marks the group’s return to the indie realm after two decades in the majors—is as much of a statement of purpose as anything it’s recorded in the ’00s, even though the record gets off to a rough start. The Eternal opens with two atonal anthems—“Sacred Trickster” and “Anti-Orgasm”—that combine bratty leftist and New Age sloganeering with stripped-down, groove-oriented skronk. Like the rest of The Eternal, “Sacred Trickster” and “Anti-Orgasm” were reportedly written and recorded quickly, with minimal rehearsal, but aside from making an instant impact, neither gains much from the immediacy. The Eternal gets much better as it plays on, once the band reaches winners like the beautifully squalling “Antenna” and the smooth-but-sleazy “Malibu Gas Station,” both of which burble along organically and aggressively without becoming overbearing. The songs on The Eternal are more conventionally rock-oriented than any in Sonic Youth’s career, yet the album doesn’t really sound like a departure. When the band wraps up with the nearly 10-minute “Massage The History”—a song as accessible as it is sprawling—it seems to be declaring that in spite of the avant-garde trappings, Sonic Youth is now and always will be a rock band at heart.