Album Review: Sonic Youth – Simon Werner a Disparu

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If anyone was wondering what the adventurous American rock band Sonic Youth might try next, it turns out that the answer is: Scoring a well-received French mystery-thriller movie.

The latest release on the band’s vanity label Sonic Youth Recordings, the music of “Simon Werner a Disparu” (“Simon Werner Disappeared,” known as “Lights Out” in English) is an ambient electro-rock counterpart to director Fabrice Gobert’s eery portrait of abduction and psychosis in the Paris suburbs.

Taken as nothing more than the ninth album from the band, it sounds like a triumphant fusing of 2002′s “Murray Street” at its most atonal with the more quietly melodic qualities of 2006′s “Rather Ripped.” Though it’s more soothing than not on the outside, there’s a gentle violence that sometimes bursts through the surface.

“Theme De Jeremie” starts everything off-kilter, with atmospheric guitar feedback circling overhead while drummer Steve Shelley patters out a low and urgent pace on his cymbals. Soon, this bleeds into a seemingly improvisational guitar solo over smooth jazz undertones as the track paints a more complex picture of Jeremie, the moodily tragic hero of “Disparu.”

Here, we have to start crediting Simon Werner a Disparu as more than just an album, but an expression of Gobert’s story in some way. This is the sort of work Thurston Moore can do for the rest of his life. “Theme De Alice” is grindingly energetic electric rock, even in its more downcast minutes, while “Theme De Simon” consist almost entirely of piano, softly vibrating guitars, and hypnotic electronica. Both of these styles make up the bulk of “Alice et Simon.”

There aren’t melodic themes to follow here so much as there are emotional themes. In an interview for the Cannes Film Festival, Gobert said that he chose Sonic Youth to score his film because of “something that just felt right that came from the strength, originality, and melancholy that emanate from their songs.”

He certainly got what he paid for—there’s an incredible emotional depth expressed without a single lyric in Disparu, an instant ability for even those who’ve never seen the movie to synchronize themselves with the characters’ soft sadness and electric fear in kind.

It’s nothing particularly new in the lives of Sonic Youth, but that’s not a bad thing. Though unlikely to capture any awards from the popular industry, Simon Werner a Disparu showcases everything Sonic Youth has been working on in the last decade in a tightly-orchestrated package that’s sure to captivate fans of ambient rock everywhere.

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