RECORDINGS : Quick Spins

RECORDINGS : Quick Spins

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

RATHER RIPPED

Sonic Youth

New York City guitar gods Sonic Youth have spent the last 25 years pushing the boundaries of experimental rock, with a few forays into a more accessible sound (1990's "Goo" and 1992's "Dirty"). Compared with their more raucous excursions, "Rather Ripped" is almost a pop record, a collection of tightly focused songs that are remarkably straightforward for a band that has championed and influenced such noisy bands as Wolf Eyes and Magik Markers.

Where Sonic Youth's guitars typically sound distorted on long, growing compositions, the songs on "Rather Ripped" are clean and crisp, and most fall at or below the four-minute mark. The result is a kinder, gentler Sonic Youth -- or at least a more conventional one. Guitarist-bassist Kim Gordon, whose vocals usually sound somewhere between disinterested and annoyed, is downright sensitive on the mellow "Turquoise Boy." The heavy spiritual questions that guitarist Thurston Moore poses on "Do You Believe in Rapture?" are even convincing -- no small feat, given the song's not-so-subtle antiwar stance.

"Rather Ripped" is not completely tame, though: "Rats" squeals and growls beneath Lee Ranaldo's creepy vocals. Meanwhile, speedy, chiming guitars and snappy drumming keep the standout "Incinerate" driving forward as if it were destined for mainstream rock radio. And "Ripped's" longest track, "Pink Steam," begins with a frenzied instrumental that features a snarling Moore vocal almost at the last minute. This is enough of the old Youth to reassure fans that the group's edgier, more aggressive sound hasn't been abandoned, just polished up a bit.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Pink Steam," "Incinerate"

-- Catherine P. Lewis

Sonic Youth is scheduled to perform at the 9:30 club tomorrow.

THE BIG BANG

Busta Rhymes

Surprise, surprise, the clown king of radio rap has toned things down a bit. "The Big Bang," the first disc in four years from the growly Busta Rhymes, is almost understated at times.

Of course the veteran New York rhymer hasn't drastically altered his bugged-out, dancehall-influenced delivery, but there are many moments on "The Big Bang" where he eases back. The robotic single "Touch It" and the club-buster "How We Do It Over Here" aren't nearly as liquor-soaked as they could've been.

The chief influence is obviously Dr. Dre, who recently welcomed Busta into his Aftermath Entertainment empire. Dre takes the helm on the tightly wound "Don't Get Carried Away," meeting Busta halfway between the gutter and high-end urban cool. The disc's other A-list producers (Will.I.Am, DJ Scratch, Scott Storch, the late J Dilla) often seem to consciously reflect Dre's crisp aesthetic.

The guest list is truly over-the-top. Q-Tip, Raekwon, Missy Elliott, Nas and Kelis deliver cameos, and the late Rick James struggles with the hook on "In the Ghetto." They're all outclassed by Stevie Wonder, though. On "Been Through the Storm," where Busta recounts life as the son of Caribbean immigrants, Wonder adds some dramatic heft.

That track has Busta's most memorable lines, too. He says his hardworking father had the hands of a junkie, so coarse he could "slap a mule and take the life of a donkey." It's vivid, it's funny, and it's exactly where he should be.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Touch It," "How We Do It Over Here," "Been Through the Storm"

-- Joe Warminsky


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