“Hoarfrost” Sonic Youth

I’ve been a fan of Sonic Youth for so long, that my thinking about what they do and have done has ruptured, evolved, and come back again.  I used to think that all of their best work was contained between Bad Moon Rising and Washing Machine in a fantastic 1985-95 decade of creativity and craft.  I used to think the work before that was naive, and the work after was scattershot and past its prime, but it’s hard to say if either of those theories hold much water.  I hear song like “Hoarfrost” from 1998’s A Thousand Leaves, and I often don’t know what to think.  It fits the vein of old, soft Sonic Youth songs like “Winner’s Blues” or “Little Trouble Girl” that are sad and wisened, and it also ushers in a Sonic Youth whose best songs in the years to come would not be the rockers, but the more introspective numbers like “Unmade Bed,” “Disconnection Notice,” or “Turquoise Boy.”  And, there’s also the Lee Ranaldo songs – Lee Ranaldo, who, like a Christine McVie of Sonic Youth, has his own brand of songs included once or twice per record.  “Hoarfrost” is a slice of mystery and life – a “view through the trees to a couple standing in the snow” that is a moment of dread, love, and satisfaction incarnate.  It’s a look of speculation written in verse that moves without quite knowing what’s occuring – in a line like, “I put my feet deep in the trakcs that you made/ walked behind you off into the woods,” you get an image of someone watching, but can’t, perhaps, equate why that rustles up a sense of withering longing with it.  In its tremulous, sculpted guitar that surrounds it, we get Lee Ranaldo at his most unguarded, we get a view through the trees worth savoring.

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