Continuing their high-brow path towards avant-garde guitar music and away from their late '80s punk-influenced style of controlled cacophony, Sonic Youth have continued to make it difficult for fans to follow their evolving style of influential alternative rock. With the aid of renowned producer Jim O'Rourke, this iconic group has stripped away much of the murky sound that polluted its late '80s masterpieces such as Daydream Nation and Sister. This new style of clean production on NYC Ghosts & Flowers also differs from the group's early '90s sound partly attributed to Butch Vig on colorful albums such as Dirty and Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star, where Vig masterfully juxtaposed the group's knack for noise with his gift for salient production. Similar to Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star, Sonic Youth have again written a collection of shorter songs, focused primarily upon lyrics and song structuring rather than guitars. Thurston Moore's songs dominate this record, sounding unlike anything he has ever written. These songs seem to evolve spontaneously, moving into and then out of Moore's Ginsberg-like beatnik vocals. Songs such as "Free City Rhymes" and "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" sound like the music from SYR 1 and SYR 2 accompanied by subtly spoken poetry, focused more on enunciation than melody. More than ever, it seems as if Moore has abandoned his goofball charisma of the past for his new status as an ambitious poet looking to be respected as much for his words as his guitar. Kim Gordon's contribution, "Nevermind (What Was It Anyway)," stands above all other songs on the album as the only song with a memorable yet kooky vocal melody: "Boys go to Jupiter to more stupider/ Girls go to Mars to become rock stars." Contributed by Lee Ranaldo, the title track of this album serves as the guitarist's best lyrical piece to date and also as the album's grand finale, stretching to nearly ten minutes of slow building guitar intensity. In the end, this Sonic Youth album will appeal to those attracted to the group's mellow side -- a subtle side of the group more interested in collective contemplation than electrifying energy. Never before has the group sounded so consciously mature. For some fans, this album will sound refreshing, but for the many Sonic Youth fans still in love with the confrontational attitude of "Death Valley '69," the charged feel of "Teenage Riot," or the epic scope of "The Diamond Sea" this album may sound tired.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier