Sonic Youth: Kim Gordon (vocals, guitar, bass guitar); Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore (vocals, guitar); Steve Shelley (drums). Recording information: Sear Sound Studio, New York, New York (2005 - 2006). Sonic Youth's turn-of-the-century output has shown a marked focus on the more abstract aspects of the band's sound, as evidenced by, if nothing else, the prolific number of experimental releases on the band's SYR imprint, including the double-album tribute to avant-garde composers, GOODBYE 20TH CENTURY. And while to use the phrase "stylistic departure" is unbefitting of a band with such catholic tastes and influences, the straightforward pop element that marks 2006's RATHER RIPPED, the band's 14th proper studio album, is so pronounced and, to a certain extent, jarring, it's difficult not to focus in on it. From the Thin Lizzy-like twin-guitar interlude on "Incinerate" to the gentle lullaby melody of "Do You Believe in the Rapture" (arguably the loveliest song Sonic Youth has produced since "Diamond Sea") to Kim Gordon's new-found pop croon on the opener, "Reena," and "Turquoise Boy," the band hasn't made a record with this many fun, enjoyable tunes in years. Of course accessible is a relative word when discussing Sonic Youth, and by no means has the band lost its edge. Even at its most poppy, Sonic Youth still twist and gnarl any rock troupe they encounter. But on RATHER RIPPED, the band that essentially created noise rock have once again placed the rock front and center.