Usually cast to the wayside in in the shadow of Sonic Youth band mate Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo’s solo projects are welcomed with open 90s band tee-clad arms. And Matador Records’ unleashing of Between The Times And The Tides showed just why Ranaldo’s rare vocal appearances on Sonic Youth’s albums were so highly anticipated. His first solo album in four years, Ranaldo was heavily influenced by The Byrds, Neil Young and R.E.M. which is evident in his vocal delivery and heavy use of arpeggios. With Between, Ranaldo has delivered a solo album staying true to his own musical vision while dealing with issues that have been haunting us all for the past decade—dreams collecting dust, passion fizzling and worry creeping in—in a polished alternative rock package.
Borrowing from the famous Rolling Stones “Paint It Black” riff, Between opens with catchy rock groove “Waiting On a Dream.” Rushed tenor vocals are reminiscent of the Michael Stipe’s cryptic incantations and gives the track a refreshing sound coupled with classic rock guitar. But clichéd imagery that has been done countless times bogs down the ultimate theme of broken dreams and fading hope. Ranaldo’s journey toward clarity hits a speed bump in the refrain, “I know exactly what you mean, I know exactly what you dream,” which comes off as whiny and tired as opposed to intuitive.
The lengthiest song, “Xtina As I Knew Her,” boasts just over seven minutes of material and is chock full of smooth electric guitar riffs along with Ranaldo’s sometimes-clever, other-times-laughable rhymes. Discomforting lyrics, “As Christina came of age, I hung with Xtina’s friends,” definitely grab listeners’ attention in the most shocking of ways. The flow of the song is occasionally disrupted by choppy shifts between singing and spoken word but serve to add backstory to the song. Despite a few lyrical pitfalls, Ranaldo aptly describes a self-destructive young woman and the meaning of the album title “between the times and the tides” begins to surface with perfect subtlety.
Uppity number “Angles” serves as a much-needed refresher following the emotional depth of previous songs. Electric guitar and organ intertwine to create a backdrop for vocals as Ranaldo sings with two-dimensional cheer.“Angles” is followed by the most stripped down number of the album “Hammer Blows,” which sticks with the same rhyme structure as many songs previous and almost lulls listeners to sleep. And just when listeners start getting in a tranquil groove, an annoying guitar “wah” pedal disrupts. Ranaldo’s electric guitar chops are extremely evident; “Fire Island (Phases)”and makes it obvious why he was named Rolling Stones 33rd greatest guitarist of all time, one spot above his band mate Thurston Moore.
Closer “Tomorrow Never Comes” tries hard to match the AABB rhyme scheme upheld for the entire album but often falters with either painfully cryptic lyrics or unnatural vocal delivery. “Did you wake up late this morning with a halo around your head/ find yourself on the streets and wishing you could climb back in your bed,” is one of the most begrudging highlights of the song.
Each song on Between The Times And The Tides tiptoes near flawlessness, with profound overarching themes and innovative guitar composition. But then something interludes to jeopardize that progress, sometimes a just-too-cute rhyme or a wayward wah pedal. Whatever it may be, listeners remain stranded somewhere not between the times and tides, but between satisfaction and confusion.
Lee Ranaldo – Between the Times and the Tides tracklist:
- “Waiting On A Dream”
- “Off The Wall”
- “Xtina As I Knew Her”
- “Hammer Blows”
- “Fire Island (Phases)”
- “Tomorrow Never Comes”