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Sonic Youth

Rather Ripped (Geffen)

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Where can you find an acknowledged "supreme alt-rock influence" -- on a major label, no less -- that's continued working for nearly three decades and still somehow wins props from the under-30 indie crowd?

Rather Ripped impresses immediately with its hooks -- some sharply wedged in the band's expert deconstructions -- songwriting that harks back to Jim O'Rourke's two-album tenure (he's since left the band), and production that returns to the beautifully spooky warmth of the mid-period classic Sister. More than half the dozen tracks clock in under four minutes, as they compactly smush together all their Sonic Youthness into a neat, mature package.

Things begin with the agreeably cool "Reena," as Kim Gordon sings, "You keep me comin' home again" in her crinkly croon, and Thurston Moore goes right back with her, inserting bits of Evol's "Starpower." Compared to Gordon and Moore's now more-pooped-than-groovy vocals, Lee Ranaldo's gruff lead on "Rats" proves that someone in this band still walks the city streets. "Sleepin Around" and "What a Waste" paint simple Stooges riffs into restrained echoes of the early '70s Bowery beatnik vibe. But by the time Moore is singing "Lights Out," it kind of feels like it. Rather Ripped sounds like the lights are still on, but it's not necessarily the triumphant return some make it out to be.

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