Five Times Lee Ranaldo Proved He Was the Driving Creative Force in Sonic Youth


Despite a career spanning over 30 years, Lee Ranaldo retains a thirst for unabashed creative expression that is truly rare. So, to ready ourselves for seeing this maverick’s latest incarnation, Lee Ranaldo and the Dust, at Union Pool this Saturday, let’s take a look back at the guitarist/vocalist/writer/producer’s five greatest moments.

See also: Watch Sonic Youth Perform on Gossip Girl

Sonic Youth’s “In the Kingdom 19”
Establishing your presence and ensuring your voice is heard is difficult for any musician, in any genre, at any given moment in time — so just imagine the misery of trying to do it when you’re sandwiched between Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Arguably, the moment Lee Ranaldo emerged as a hugely important force in Sonic Youth came in 1985, with this track from Evol. “In the Kingdom 19” is a frenzied explosion of guitars twisted around manic stop-and-go drums, grounded by Ranaldo’s cool and calm narrative, even as he spins a tale of chaos and calamity. It’s like a Beatnik poet accidentally wandered into a filthy punk rock squat and just decided to move in. Just brilliant.

Producer/Engineer/ Mixer, Babes in Toyland’s Fontanelle
1992’s Fontanelle isn’t just Babe’s in Toyland’s best record, it is one of the most visceral and primal albums of the entire decade – and given the fact that we’re talking about the ’90s here, that’s quite an enormous feat. Ranaldo helped the trio establish a cool crispness in their sound without ever sacrificing any of their raw, unhinged rage. In doing so, Babes in Toyland reached new heights of success. Neal Karlen’s band biography Babes in Toyland: The Making and Selling of a Rock and Roll Band, paints Ranaldo as a pushy, demanding perfectionist during the making of the album. Whether that portrait is accurate or not, the final results are spectacular.

Between the Times and the Tides
Ranaldo’s ninth solo effort is an earthy, contemplative album that retains a certain sparkle even in its more melancholic moments. When it was released in March 2012, we said that Between the Times and the Tides continued Sonic Youth’s “decades-long conversation between chiming retuned guitars and classic-rock bliss” but had “a priori cool done up with engaging summer-light and polished pop urges seen through to their full extent.” This was the first time Ranaldo had released a record of his own that wasn’t willfully experimental and the results are quite breath-taking.

It is surprising to absolutely nobody on earth that Lee Ranaldo ended up married to renowned modern visual artist Leah Singer, who works with projections and film mixing. But it’s even less surprising that these two have been collaborating on immersive and mind-bending projects and installations together since 1991. As a duo named Drift, Singer and Ranaldo’s creations are direct responses to one another; as Singer experiments with footage, Ranaldo soundtracks the images with music, samples and words. Some of the results — as seen in the 2005 Drift DVD and book boxset — are enough to melt even the most stable of minds.

Road Movies
This 2004 book of Ranaldo’s poetry, accompanied by Leah Singer’s stark black and white photography, is a project that succeeds in capturing compelling snapshots of the American open road, relayed from Ranaldo’s unique and expansive perspective. And while some of the poetry featured here was on his 1998 album Dirty Windows, Road Movies also gives Sonic Youth fans a little something to be excited about, thanks to the fact that it includes an extended version of “In the Kingdom 19.” An ultimately impressive collection.

Lee Ranaldo and the Dust perform at Union Pool, this Saturday, September 27th, with Metal Mountains and Tall Firs.

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