New music out of left field
Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree just released a new album, Names of North End Women. The album contains what we’ve come to expect from Ranaldo: music re-imagined. This work is something new in an age when we thought that wasn’t possible. The production quality is sharp and carefully considered. Traces of Ranaldo’s experimental work with Sonic Youth appear but the album overall feels like a new experiment.
“Alice, Etc.” begins with an insidious monotone pulsing and a pervading feeling of mystery. Ranaldo speaks “One more high flying bird into the sunset, one more road to nowhere never ends…” An otherworldly folk instrument, or perhaps a distorted acoustic guitar, enters. The song feels both surreal and very human. The song veers and threatens to disappear, anchored only by a dull, muffled pulse.
“Words out of the Haze” features an exciting low bass synth rhythm in the vein of dark industrial music, not unlike Nine Inch Nails. The vocals sound a little under-processed. A bit of reverb and e.q. could have gone a long way. The lyrics convey imagery: “I chained her to a passing cloud. I chained her to a sky.” There is a very human quality to the speaker as if he is confiding his secrets. A dulcimer and a wild untamed distorted electric guitar are featured, then die into a fingerpicked acoustic guitar arpeggio.
“New Brain Trajectory” is a spoken-word piece with sparingly-used singing. Overtones from harmonics picked on electric guitar loom as if hell is potentially going to break loose. The word “daddy” is repeated like an obsession. At times, the song sounds like a person walking with a bunch of loose metal jingling in their pockets. “Humps” uses percussive industrial sounds of metal clanging in a factory and doors shutting in monotonous rhythm. Spoken-word vocals are at the forefront. “The lights are out all down my street. Tins cans rolling at my feet…it’s time to play the midnight creep.” “Names of North End Women” has bells, and what sounds like hubcaps being hit for the percussion and a cool rhythm synth part. The song explodes into a celebratory chorus of several voices singing “we are like the snow” and an African dance beat rhythm. This song is compelling and feels like something really new.
Ranaldo’s master wordsmithing takes center stage in “Light Years Out,” a sonic poem about unrequited love. An edgy barrage of seemingly random sounds intrigues the mind. The song takes on a creepy vibe with the addition of lyrics including “My lust for you has become a real distraction.” The ordinary singing leaves something to be desired, but the poetry intrigues the listener to keep him or her enthralled throughout. “You’re just a girl-shaped void. Can you feel my existence?” “The Art of Losing” is an introspective piece about keeping true to oneself. A sparse electronic beat and a symphony of electronic synth sounds are the foundation of this piece. This is creativity in its purest form. “At The Forks” is a pleasant, major chord Disney-esque pop song. The song is composed mostly on synth with no percussion. Woven into this peaceful, floaty song are some dark lyrics. A large instrumental section leads to the end.
Names of North End Women has a high caliber of production and arrangement quality. From an artistic standpoint, it is compelling and fresh. Ranaldo and Refree have a knack for creating songs with a wide variety of unexpected instruments used in unconventional ways. Their fresh perspective really shines through in this album. A lot of left field factors are woven together in a way that somehow makes sense. This is music that your soul will understand, even if your mind does not.