I have to admit to something. Lee was always my least favorite member of Sonic Youth. If Thurston was the punk, then Lee was the beatnik in the band. I remember hating Lee’s solo record East Jesus, even though most of my friends at the time ate pretty much anything any member of Sonic Youth did raw.
Lee always brought in an element of art school poetry in my mind. The kind of person I would really try to avoid in high school. That guy who would wear sunglasses inside. It comes then as no surprise my heart belongs to Thurston. I used to skip Lee’s songs on Sonic Youth records, I’ll even admit to that. But still, Lee is a member of Sonic Youth, one of my all time favorite bands. So this record was met with high expectations, some bias toward Lee and a little bit of fear of what he might have done this time.
I had work in Bergen, and I had to drive there, so I figured Between The Times and The Tides would have to work on the road. Early mornings must make me let my guard down, because it wasn’t long before I was singing along, drumming on the wheel, and to my surprise feeling it in a big way.
The first song “Waiting On A Dream” is very Lee, in being a song that easily could have been released as later Sonic Youth. On Murray Street maybe. Weirdly enough I think of the Beatles too while listening, the later psychedelic Fab Four mind you. Good.
The disc continues with “Off The Wall”, not the most original title I might dare say. There is a distinct major chord-y vibe to this I generally find few traces of in music I like. Very seldom indeed. It might even be said that major chords make me sick. This though, doesn’t. I like this too (!). It reminds me of Teenage Fanclub, if you disregard the fact that Teenage Fanclub probably were influenced by Lee and not the other way around.
“Xtina As I Knew Her“ keeps it going, and this is my favorite track so far. This song could easily have been a Sonic Youth single. Laid back and jangly, his lyrics drawing pictures. This is the first song you realise there are guitars on this record. There has been all along, I realise that, but his playing is so tasteful and orchestrated it works more like a wind of guitars than anything else. Poetic, innit.
The B side takes a U turn toward Folk, though. I definitely hear that Mr. Ranaldo is from my father’s generation, and I’m afraid it all starts to get a little weird from here on out. Weird need not be bad, but this is the kind of weird that gets me out of sorts. Track five, Hammer Blows, is Lee alone with his acoustic guitar and what seems to be the quirkiest wah-wah-wah vocal break I’ve ever heard. Almost as if he’s having a little laugh, or performing some kind of inside joke on us. I don’t know, but I’m slowly and surely losing interest, man. Sorry. Peter Frampton talk box solos just ain’t my thing.
Written in my notes on track six, reads: “Country Joe and the fish? What the hell happened here?”, and that little comment might just as well sum up what the B side did to me.
The record started out promisingly, I loved a few tracks. Then I got bored and a little bewildered by all the different directions this record is going. It has golden stuff like “Xtina…”, but then he manages to commit a song like “Lost“ which is half-genius and half sounds like it could have been on the soundtrack to My So-Called Life ( the cheesy 90ies grunge TV show… Sonic Youth were on the actual soundtrack, but I digress).
Speaking of the nineties, Thurston Moore released his solo album Psychic Hearts way back in 1995, and I still listen to that record. I’m sorry Lee. But I just don’t think I’ll be listening to Between the times… seventeen years from now.
In the uncertainty of what Sonic Youth’s future holds this could have been Lee Ranaldo’s final step out of the shadow of Thurston (and Kim), but he ultimately fails to make me engaged in what he’s trying to communicate. For that this record is too comfortable and unwilling to take risks. If you are in your comfort zone, Lee, you need to get out of it. Remember when you used to feedback for twenty minutes, then smash the guitar on the monitor? That was awesome.