The brand new album from Lee Ranaldo and The Dust is called “Last Night On Earth” and it is an amazing rock n roll album. Although I’ve mourned the loss of Sonic Youth the strength of each members work since the hiatus has been total fucking godhead and Lee Ranaldo has proved what a vital songwriter he is.
I find it difficult to choose a favourite Sonic Youth member because each of them possesses a creative dialogue that is supremely better than anyone and everything. In 2012 Lee released the amazing “Between The Times and The Tides” and proved (and fuck I hate saying this) that he really was the George Harrison of the Sonic Youth creative unity. Yes, it is easy to compare what Lee does to artists like Harrison and of course Neil Young but those invested in the Sonic Youth universe know that his songwriting is a language all of its own.
On his second proper solo album he’s now joined by backing band The Dust which includes Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, Guitarist Alan Licht and Bass Player Tim Luntzel who back Lee with the spook, ache and dusty precision of Crazy Horse. There are echoes of the Sonic Youth sound but it is mixed with the Americana folk and more experimental eras of Wilco. There is a bit more of a traditional rock n roll / jam band swagger to “Last Night On Earth” and the journey provides so many righteous moments.
This is music that has purpose and drive and real arthouse shivers. There is something very real about the sound of this record; it carries a very dusty lo-fi production that makes you feel like you’re in the room with the band as they play. These songs have the capacity to gently lift off with a hippy dream style folk communication but they soon find their way to chaotic noise jams that play out with a ferocity and intensity that only someone like Lee Ranaldo is capable of. As the title suggests there is a beautiful apocalyptic feel to the music with sunshine weaving in and out of the dark storm clouds providing a nervous level of divinity to proceedings as you relax into the knowledge of death and the healing power of your final thoughts being framed with a history of different milestones from your life. This is music that requires you to be lying flat on your back, alone and willing to muse on all of your angst and all of your feelings of love. This is music that soundtracks the chaos of a satisfied mind and a wounded heart.
The real star of this album (and of Sonic Youth) is the drumming of Steve Shelley who once again proves how important he is to the sound Lee Ranaldo makes. He’s probably never the first choice for people when they are making the list of “greatest drummers ever” but he is at the top of my list because his playing is what helps give purpose to ever y inch of this music. He did it so fantastically with Sonic Youth and now he slots in perfectly with Lee’s new jams and gives a solid backbone to every moment. All good excursions in noise / art rock require a good drummer and for the past 27 plus years Steve Shelley has been at the top of his game. His discipline and ability to drive the music through the quiet tender moments to the out of control chaos is a joyful thing to witness and experience. Combined with the skills of Licht and Luntzel The Dust prove to be the best foot forward for Lee Ranaldo and having witnessed the band live I can safely say these are four musicians who belong together.
All in all this is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from an artist like Lee Ranaldo, a focus on making totally forward thinking music that pays homage to an array of different art forms but still carries the rock n roll spirit. When you listen to “Last Night On Earth” you aren’t concerned with who or what you are, you are transported away from your species and taken deep into the soul and beating heart of the universe where for at least an hour or so you are at one and at peace with the collective consciousness. The modern world can’t hurt you when you’re headphones are on and Lee Ranaldo and The Dust are creating music this heavenly and in an ugly world of hype machine and meaningless million dollar music it’s great to have something this pure still being released by artists who are getting more radical and experimental with age.
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By: Dan Newton