[HOT TRACK]Band continues rebirth with guitarist as midwife

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[HOT TRACK]Band continues rebirth with guitarist as midwife

The Chicago-born producer and experimental guitarist Jim O’Rourke has a knack for making bands sound progressive, eclectic and a bit strange. Join him with the forerunner of modern rock, Sonic Youth, and this band’s art-rock confusion of angst and feedback, and you would expect earplugs to be a definite must.

But O’Rourke has had a stabilizing effect on one of New York’s finest rock bands since joining it two years ago, resulting in a tighter, more listenable Sonic Youth. He produced the band’s last album, “NYC Ghosts and Flowers,” in 2000, and then toured with the band. He joined the band officially for “Murray Street.”

The new album is named for the Manhattan street where the band’s studio is located, only blocks from the World Trade Center site. The band was working on the album when the attacks happened, and were unable to return to the studio for weeks afterward.

The experience had an effect on the end product. “I wanted to console with the music those who have to tide over the adversity,” O’Rourke said of the new album. This way of comforting would be a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated -- but for Sonic Youth the result is softened edges and staying with the focus of the song.

Sonic Youth’s genesis dates to 1981, when the bassist Kim Gordon started jamming with the guitarists Thurston Moore -- her future husband -- and Lee Ranaldo. The drummer Steve Shelley joined in 1985. The band started raising eyebrows with 1988’s “Daydream Nation.” Two early ’90s albums, “Goo” and “Dirty,” brought the band wide popularity, and influenced the Seattle-based grunge movement that spawned groups like Nirvana and Soundgarden. Over the years, Sonic Youth’s sound has become more improvised, experimental and dissonant.

But “Murray Street,” with O’Rourke’s production, could expand the band’s appeal. The seven cuts are long, turning occasionally in avante-garde directions, but each is eventually contained and tidied up. An example is “Disconnection Notice,” which begins with a tender tone but veers off into a sound storm of feedback. Eventually, though, the forces are tamed, with Moore repeating the melancholy but comforting first verse.

by Chun Su-jin

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