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Sonic Youth: NYC Ghosts & Flowers

After 19 years, the members of Sonic Youth spend most of their time spiraling off in odd directions, cranking out experiments in everything from classical music to formless guitar noise (and combinations thereof) when they're not running independent labels or touring and recording with various side projects. Strangely, the band's least interesting efforts have long been its major-label studio albums: Sonic Youth's late-'90s work is bogged down with ponderous filler like the wanky fare that dominates 1998's A Thousand Leaves. At first, NYC Ghosts & Flowers sounds like an improvement, with "Free City Rhymes" nicely harnessing the fractured, chiming beauty of Sonic Youth's many dissonant guitar sounds. But the album as a whole—which, at eight songs in 42 minutes, barely exceeds EP length—is woefully uneven, with producer Jim O'Rourke indulging the band in some truly ill-conceived whims. Near NYC's conclusion, the eight-minute title track eventually builds into a dynamic, forceful epic, but the disc's soggy midsection is weighted down with dull poetry readings ("Small Flowers Crack Concrete") and pieces that should have been relegated to B-sides ("StreamXsonik Subway"). Sonic Youth is still capable of immense power, but it hasn't mustered artistic consistency in years.