Lee Ranaldo

Electric Trim

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With Electric Trim, Lee Ranaldo continues to expand on the mystical feeling of his post-Sonic Youth work in compelling and very personal ways. This time, he combines the serene contemplation of Last Night on Earth with the energy that emanated from the live album Acoustic Dust. Indeed, Ranaldo recorded Electric Trim in New York and Barcelona with Spanish multi-instrumentalist Raul "Refree" Fernandez, whom he'd met while making the latter album. With a mix of new and veteran collaborators supporting him, Ranaldo delivers truly unexpected combinations of sound and mood that are more adventurous than the work of many of his peers -- or younger artists, for that matter. The sweeping opener "Moroccan Mountains" is too nimble to be called an epic; as it moves from contemplation to furious intensity, its melody follows the wind and its percussion feels freer than a steady beat would. The title track is even more freewheeling, incorporating synths and trumpet in its cosmic wandering. Like Between the Time and Tides and Last Night on Earth, Electric Trim bears a strong classic rock influence, but the immediacy of the performances -- and Ranaldo's emotions -- keeps it from feeling musty. He captures the spirit of psychedelia, rather than merely sounding trippy, in the virtuosic moments and shifting scenes within songs like "Purloined," an unlikely but winning mix of allusions to Wings and Edgar Allan Poe, and "New Thing," which layers its John Lennon homages in ways that transcend pastiche. Despite these traditional-seeming influences, starting anew is one of Electric Trim's major themes. There's a literary continuity to the album's moods and words that may be due to Ranaldo's collaboration with novelist Jonathan Lethem, but again, the results are far from stuffy or studied on "Let's Start Again," a fusion of country rock and electro that recalls both sides of Neil Young's music, or "Last Looks," a dusky duet with Sharon Van Etten that acknowledges the need to say goodbye to the past in order to say hello to the present. When artists reach a certain point in their careers, they can maintain the status quo or they can challenge themselves; Ranaldo chooses the latter on Electric Trim, imbuing his poetic cool with earnest, quixotic charm that makes this some of his most wonderfully unpredictable music yet.

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