When I saw Lee Ranaldo and his band — who now call themselves The Dust — in August 2012, their charming, rollicking approach to songwriting is what struck me. Of course, the music was still noisy, but it was nowhere near the fuzz-drenched poison of either of the records released by former Sonic Youth bandmates Thurston Moore (Chelsea Light Moving’s self-titled album) or Kim Gordon (Body/Head’s Coming Apart) this year. Whereas his one-time musical partners have opted for black sludge and acidic guitar freebasing, Ranaldo instead goes for hazy open roads and hazy vibes.
Thirty seconds into “Lecce, Leaving,” the tune that begins Last Night on Earth, Ranaldo introduces us to what could be textbook ’80s college rock a la Reckoning if it weren’t so damn dreamy. “Lecce, Leaving,” like a lot of Last Night on Earth, plays like a guided tour of three decades’ worth of affecting guitar rock. Wilco-style swirls dip in and out. Desert-psych Meat Puppets moments make cameos. Pacific-Northwest jangly twang transforms simple lyrics into yearning prayers.
It almost feels reductive to lump Ranaldo’s sound in with the scores of acts he’s inspired. Let’s just put it this way: He’s pushing 60 years old, his main band is dead, and he’s making the kind of music he wants, absolutely uninhibited. Last Night on Earth is the sound of a free man with a full tank of gas and full head of memories. Song stretch well into the seven- and nine-minute marks, and additional guitar layers lurk round every corner. It’s dreamy and unruffled and interesting all at once.
But there’s nothing left to prove anymore, which works out to be hell of a good thing for Ranaldo and his Dust. Nothing left, in fact, but pushing the car lighter in and cruising for another hundred miles.
(Matador Records, 304 Hudson St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10013)