Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star
REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/11/2017
Often considered a lesser entry in Sonic Youth’s catalog – some would say one of the band’s worst albums – Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star finds the vaunted band struggling with a direction forward.
Running the risk of becoming too commercial evidently rubbed Thurston Moore the wrong way; after Goo and Dirty brought some commercial success, Moore was unhappy that the band was being lumped in with the more commercial bands. The irony, of course, is that Sonic Youth inspired these bands that were now successful and that resulted in Sonic Youth’s own signing to a major label (and the mild success of Dirty in 1992). But Moore saw himself as he always had, more aligned with lo-fi indie bands like Pavement and Sebadoh, and so the band decided to return to that sort of songwriting vein.
The result is an album with the feel of older Sonic Youth but much more relaxed, less abrasive and with fewer left-turns and left-field detours. Make no mistake, this is not commercial alternative rock by any means, coming off as the sort of bedroom-wondering photo negative of Surfer Rosa and In Utero, lost in its own boring gray world. Nobody expected the band to write another “Kool Thing” or anything, of course, but this is music that just sort of meanders for a few minutes and calls it a day, and you’re not any better for hearing it.
To wit, the fan-picked “hits” collection Hits Are For Squares only culled one song from this, “Bull In The Heather,” which few Sonic Youth fans would pick as their favorite. The band deliberately recorded this with few overdubs and a live feel, and producer Butch Vig gives them a clean sound but otherwise deploys few tricks. Also missing: guitar feedback and a sense of urgency. These guys may now be confident in their weirdness and in knowing nobody makes noise like they do, but for half of Jet Set, it sounds like they don’t even want to be doing this.
Of course, youthful boredom and garage rock are a potent combination, and a few moments generate a spark, like the pulse-racing lo-fi rocker “In The Mind Of The Bourgeois Reader,” the random rock jam that opens the otherwise-repetitive “Bone,” and the midsection of “Waist,” but these moments are rare. All too often – and especially on Kim Gordon’s songs – there is a lack of charisma or hooks or development within the songs; both Moore and Gordon seem satisfied to find one tic and repeat it again and again, then call it a day. Also note that guitarist Lee Ranaldo didn’t bother submitting any songs this time around and Gordon was pregnant at the time, both of which likely contributed to the cloud that hangs over this lackluster set of songs.Jet Set seems inspired by the bass-averse lo-fi classics of yore like Slanted & Enchanted and Surfer Rosa but isn’t quite sure what to do with said inspiration but yawn convincingly and stare off into the corner of a middle-class suburban bedroom. The band survives with its integrity intact, to be sure, probably costing themselves a fickle mainstream audience in the process, but this is definitely not an album that warrants repeated listens, even if you’re a fan.