Blueprints Into Bedlam
Lee Ranaldo has always been something of a hidden genius. It’s unlikely that his name will ever have the household status of Thurston Moore or Kim Gordon, although his contributions to Sonic Youth are surely as important. His unique approach to alternate tunings and experimental noise landed him a spot among the greatest guitarists of all time on one of Rolling Stone’s many lists and this newest offering, Last Night On Earth, only solidifies his place as an iconic yielder of the axe.
Ranaldo’s newest outfit, The Dust, also features Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, although this surely isn’t a signifier that the famed band is any steps closer toward reconciling. Guitarist Alan Licht and bassist Tim Lüntzel round out the four-piece, collectively forming a cohesive unit.
The Dust’s Last Night On Earth is a product of Hurricane Sandy, when Ranaldo’s New York home lost water, power and heat for about a week. Ranaldo took to his acoustic and wrote these songs during the torrential storm, which is almost hard to imagine after hearing the intricacies of the final product. Often enough though, a lone acoustic can be heard softly humming along, low in the mix amongst colossal sounds.
Considering this album within the context of a horrendous storm certainly helps inform the product and occasionally provides a much-needed context to lyrics that come off as either hyperbolized or amateur. It’s difficult to imagine anything other than an ill-informed, angst-filled teen on “Home Chds” opening line “Every time I wait for the revolution to come / Every night, I think it’s here and then it’s gone” unless this Sandy context is readily available.
Last Night On Earth starts strong with “Lecce, Leaving,” a comparatively short track (at under seven minutes!) that has sizzling riffs and impressive tempo changes. Ranaldo & crew display their greatest craftsmanship on songs like “Blackt Out” that are held together by the smallest thread of order. It’s worth the listen purely for the absolutely righteous guitar work. These songs suggest that Randaldo thrives in bedlam.
What we have here is definitely a success, but it’d be hard to make a strong case that it’s an out-of-the-park home run. There are a couple throwaways, like the harpsichord addled “Late Descent No. 2.” Another seeming problem with the album is that the moments that embrace traditional pop structure don’t hold a flame to the ones that defy it. Surely, this is an album for guitarists more than radio waves.
Fans of Sonic Youth will notice that Ranaldo is gravitating toward a more classical approach to the guitar, although there are moments where his signature wall of sound techniques peep through. It’s worth mentioning that Ranaldo can’t receive all the credit here; Alan Licht does more than hold his ground as The Dust’s second guitarist.
All in all, Lee Ranaldo and the Dust produced some heavyweight jams out of what were originally neatly constructed pop songs at their Sandy inception. Time and time again, Ranaldo proves that he works best when turning order into chaos and not vice versa. We might forget the lyrics or melody to his chorus’, we won’t forget how he approached his instrument.