Lee Ranaldo is in a unique position. Though it's unconfirmed as of yet, it's widely assumed that Sonic Youth, Ranaldo's creative home for the last thirty years, is finished. Though Lee has always played second fiddle to the (now ex) husband and wife team of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, his new solo release, "Between the Times and the Tide," doesn't feel like a celebration of new freedom. It's an understated, cocky affair.
If Sonic Youth's studio albums are any indication, Lee has always had a more pop-oriented aesthetic than his band mates. From the opening moments of "Waiting on a Dream," it's pretty apparent. A repeating single string riff is the core of the song, and though it's not a direct ripoff, it's eerily reminiscent of the Rolling Stones' classic "Paint it Black."
"Off the Wall" has a pulsing, Mission of Burma style drum beat. Within ten seconds, beautiful harmonies come out of nowhere. It's hard not to take these lyrics as a personal statement of the untimely dissolution of Sonic Youth. "These days are so uncertain, satellites falling to the sea/These days it's all a question of what matters to you and me," he sings, mournfully.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Album closer "Tomorrow Never Comes" is, despite the title, as upbeat as anything here. Through a warped Motown rhythm and ultra-distorted vocals, a gentle sweetness shines through. "Let's leave the TV set for dumb/and walk out in the sun," he sings. That's good advice for anyone. Just make sure to bring your iPod with you, Lee.