Exclusive: First Audio From Sonic Youth's New CD, The Eternal

Photo: Andrew Kesin

A couple weeks back, we received an invitation from Matador Records to come listen to Sonic Youth's latest record, "The Eternal," over at the label's Manhattan HQ, and I was happy to accept on behalf of NEWSWEEK. Halfway through the listening session, though, I found myself a touch aggravated.

It wasn't because the band's latest batch of experimental jams was of poor quality. As anticipated, "The Eternal" brings the goods—a none-too-surprising fact, given that most everyone seems to agree this band has been on a righteous hot streak in their third decade of activity. What grated was the understanding that this album wouldn't be on sale until June 9.

Way too long to wait to hear it again. So we fixed that (kinda).

The pitch to Matador's publicist went as follows. The Youth are all cool and avant-garde, right? They dig William Burroughs' "cut-up" novels. They've provided musical accompaniment to Stan Brakhage's abstract-expressionist films. Thus, shouldn't the band want to produce a wild, free-for-all audio collage out of their record that we could post on Newsweek.com?

The publicist said Matador has already planned another one of its trademark "Buy Early, Get Now" promotions for this release, in which fans who pay up front (before the online leaks begin) wind up with extra bonus goodies and a full audio stream of the record ahead of its official release date. But he added that plan wouldn't kick off until April, at the earliest. In the meantime, he agreed that the idea of a sound collage could be cool.

A week later the publicist emailed to say that the band was in the studio working on the "mélange" track. When we received their finished product, it was clear that this meticulously edited two-and-a-half-minute curio wasn't simply tossed off. It is, in its own way, a discrete kind of Sonic Youth noise workout, one that draws from the delicious diversity of tracks on "The Eternal." Overall, the record benefits from a wilder, more enthusiastic palette of sounds than on some of the band's recent major-label offerings. Plus, this is their first long-player to feature the work of ex-Pavement bassist Mark Ibold. (Kim Gordon also plays some bass, but for the most part, she switched over to guitar.) Other than that, the best description of "The Eternal" might be this one lyric from the Lee Ranaldo-penned track "What We Know" (if my hastily scribbled notes are right): "It's not a quiet meditation."

We'll likely write more about the record closer to its release, but for now, you can listen to this Youth-authored mashup (and presumably blog about it, since our media player is embeddable). Check it out, below:

(UPDATE: Matador announced more details about their "Buy Early" program this morning. Starting April 28, fans who pay up front will get an additional live LP of the band's July 4 NYC show, while supplies last.

Also, we've uploaded the montage track to our Newsweek Tumblr, for folks who use that service. Share and enjoy!)