Lee Ranaldo peers out at a post-Sonic Youth world at his record release party
It has to be disorienting to start something small with two other people, keep at it for 30 years and watch it grow into something huge, and then one day the other two decide to up and go their separate ways, and suddenly you’re middle-aged, unemployed, with the whole world of choices open to you.
That’s an accurate summary of Lee Ranaldo’s life since the announcement that the other two founding members of his band, Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, were getting a divorce. In Ranaldo’s own words, the band has ended “for a while,” putting the 56-year-old in the unfamiliar position of finding (or creating) work for himself. While Renaldo has never had a hard time getting involved in side-projects and one-off collaborations outside the band—from his poetry collections to production work on albums by bands like Magik Markers and You Am I—he is now a man without a full-time gig, but also a guy with one of those resumes people call "overqualified."
Last evening, people had no problem cramming inside the Morrison Hotel Gallery's tiny Soho loft space to celebrate Ranaldo’s qualifications and what he's been doing with his newfound freedom. Ranaldo did what any unemployed, older, overqualified person might: he went into business for himself. The result is his first proper solo album, Between The Times & The Tides. Ranaldo's done solo work before, but never with quite the same drive, direction, and ambition as this time out. He's his own boss now, and it shows. The intimate Soho space was the perfect setting for a mass of music-industry types to rub elbows with the friends Ranaldo has made in the downtown art scene over the past three plus decades.
There were also children there, well-dressed youngsters who looked like if they weren’t Ranaldo’s own, they were probably related to somebody high-powered in the music or art worlds. They were overheard complaining that they would have rather been at the Hunger Games movie premiere with their friends. On the walls of the loft hung prints of Ranaldo’s Instagram photography, mostly ignored by a crowd packed in too tightly to move around much, and more interested in grabbing the free beer and wine provided by Ranaldo’s label, Matador.
As Between The Times & The Tides played over the speakers, more and more people gathered into a room that felt tinier and tinier. The ten songs contained on the record aren’t a long stretch from his now-former band’s more subtle moments, but they definitely seem like something different; moodier, and more inclined to softly nod to classic rock and pop influences.
People were heard wondering, “Is Thurston going to show up?” (He didn’t, as far as I could tell.) One 40-something man with a soul patch and vintage Western shirt seemed to be the only person in the room actually interested in discussing the record that everyone was gathered to celebrate, mentioning how it seemed to line up well with the solo albums of Thurston, whose name bounced around perhaps more even than Ranaldo's through the evening.
Ranaldo, with his shaggy gray moptop, walked around the room, talking to fans and friends, playing the good host, until it was time for him to perform a few songs from the album live. As he walked past to mount the stage with his band, one of the other people in attendance who, like me, had come to the party stag, turned to me or no one in particular and exclaimed, “This is so cool!”
It wasn't clear if he was referring to the free beer, the beautiful weather, the possibility that Glenn O’Brien was standing right next to us, or the fact that we were about to be treated to a set of songs by a member of the most important New York band of the past thirty years.
For me it was the latter. It felt like we were in luck, as Ranaldo’s moody and mysterious batch of songs fit the tight space perfectly—his familiar alternate-tuning guitar work bouncing off the walls. It sounded unsurprisingly like stripped down, acoustic Sonic Youth tracks, but also something totally original, and welcomed on a night that felt less like an industry insider party and more like a low key get together on a spring evening with Between The Times & The Tides serving as the perfect soundtrack.