I just taped two radio station promos in their entirety, an unusually large amount seeing as how I only plan to keep 20 albums from any particular year in my music collection. The quality of Mission Of Burma's ONoffON is really no surprise (they can't blitz like they used to, but the sound and hooks remain), but I was blindsided by how enjoyable I found Sonic Youth's latest, Sonic Nurse, which may be my favorite of theirs since A Thousand Leaves, if not Dirty.
Leaves had more thrilling highs, but Sonic Nurse does a fine job of embellishing the more traditional, pastoral sound of Murray Street and offering much more in the way of consistent listenability (I turn that album off after "Karen Revisited"). One shock for me is that while none of Thurston's tracks top "Rain On Tin" (his new penchant for melodicism, while definitely preferable to NYC Ghosts & Flowers-style "poetry," lacks the hummability of Leaves' "Wildflower Soul" and "Snare, Girl"), Kim Gordon offers some her most enjoyable lead vocals in a decade (She hasn't been the star of an SY album for me since Daydream Nation or EVOL!). "Pattern Recognition" and "Dude Ranch Nurse" are not without their moments of awkwardness, but "Kim Gordon/Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Handcream" rocks without fail and the ballad "I Love You Golden Blue," probably my favorite track on the album (if not my favorite Gordon track since "Panty Lies" or "The Sprawl"), is devoid of the rewardless affectation that has sunk nearly every Geffen-era star vehicle of hers, starting with the excruciating "Tunic."
Her vocal on "Golden Blue" doesn't sound like she's donning a persona (as if that in itself provides enlightenment), but actually expressing emotional fatigue. It's like the sequel of "Starpower," with Gordon acknowledging a lack of energy - this fascination has been going on for 20 years - while still revelling in incomprehensible power of her subject's pull. The rest of the album seems relatively tame and workmanlike, but subtle godsend Jim O'Rourke and enlivened beneficiary Steve Shelley actually give the band a groove; one that, while arguably too "classic rock" for true believers, makes it easier for me to ride over awkward vocal passages. I'm guessing I'll be paying more attention than usual to the album in its entirety, rather than quickly cherrypicking a few songs for a best-of CD-R.