For the better part of a decade, the members of New York avant noise act Sonic Youth have been more notable for their influence on younger experimental guitar-rock groups than for their own creative o

For the better part of a decade, the members of New York avant noise act Sonic Youth have been more notable for their influence on younger experimental guitar-rock groups than for their own creative output. On Murray Street, however, the band finally reasserts the artistic vitality it last enjoyed during its commercial peak in the early '90s. Just don't call it a "return to form" like so many of the band's recent rambling efforts. Unlike its other high-water marks Goo, Dirty, and the pioneering Daydream Nation—each a tour de force of edgy and adrenalized progressive skronk—Murray Street is a much more mature and laid-back affair: a wash of dreamy textured guitars that features some of the group's most focused and seductive work ever. The album deftly interweaves Sonic Youth's trademark complex sound patterns with more melodic sensibilities that at times are downright pretty. Credit that, in part, to the presence of longtime collaborator Jim O'Rourke—on a roll in the past year (after Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and his superb solo outing, Insignificance)—who receives billing as a full-fledged member of the band this time out. While Sonic Youth may no longer be the revolutionary it once was, Murray Street marks a striking moment of clarity that effectively synthesizes and consistently showcases the band's best latter-day ideas (see story, page 15).—BG