Sunday, November 26, 2017

Electric wizard?

Of the Baker's Dozen features I've read, Lee Ranaldo's selection is probably the least surprising. That's not to say that the former Sonic Youth guitarist's chosen LPs aren't wildly divergent in genre and ethos, though - ranging from Mojo readers' classics (Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell) all of the way to out-there experimentalists and pioneers (Ornette Coleman, Glenn Branca, Einsturzende Neubauten, John Cage) via John Fahey, Elvis Costello and Pavement. The inclusion of records by The Beatles and Talking Heads is fairly predictable for anyone who's seen his episode of What's In My Bag?, while he's also made no secret of his love for Grateful Dead in recent years, writing enthusiastically about their farewell shows and contributing to a tribute album put together by The National.

The Baker's Dozen interview naturally involves talk of his influences and how they've filtered into his new record Electric Trim. While I've been a dedicated follower of Thurston Moore's post-Sonic Youth releases and have kept a fairly close eye on Kim Gordon's various projects too, Lee's previous solo albums have passed me by. The Beatles influence is definitely discernible in closing track 'New Thing', but Electric Trim's experimentalism is largely evident in the fact that it's all over the shop - often veering between styles within songs as well as between them. It makes for a disorientating listening experience - at times, otherwise good songs seem to be somewhat sabotaged (see the naff solo in the title track) and at others, so-so tracks suddenly come into their own.

Ranaldo has assembled a great cast of collaborators including Sharon Van Etten, author Jonathan Lethem and drummers Steve Shelley and Kid Millions. However, Van Etten's vocals are primarily in the background - it's a shame she only gets to be front and centre for the duet 'Last Looks' - and the clunkiness of some of the lyrics suggests that Lethem could have been more involved too. And then there are the fiddly little electronic details, which are largely incongruous and feel too much like an ageing Neil Young fan trying to sound contemporary.

For me, the album is encapsulated in its first two tracks. 'Moroccan Mountains' is absolutely exceptional, for the most part a dreamy, trippy, drone-psych-folk song with spoken-word lyrics not dissimilar to the material on Moore's Demolished Thoughts, and one of the best things I've heard all year. But it's followed by 'Uncle Skeleton', the record's one true dud from start to finish and a song that just has me cringing throughout.

Maybe he's got a great solo record in him (maybe he's already put it out and I just haven't heard it yet), but Electric Trim isn't it.

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