As a fan, it can be as difficult to comprehend the inner workings of a band behind the closed door of their practice space as it is to understand the dynamic of a marriage behind closed bedroom doors (and with Sonic Youth, clearly both issues apply). Sonic Youth were indisputably one of the most iconic and influential groups of American indie music, but just what -- or who -- made them so important is a question that can't easily be answered, and listening to the members' interesting and varied solo output of the last year makes clear that, despite the undeniable star power of the Kim'n'Thurston figurehead, it's certain that SY were a true band, greater than the sum of its parts (and that's no slight on anyone's solo LP). Lee Ranaldo was always the dark horse, singing only occasionally and seeming to retract from the spotlight that his band's power couple so naturally attracted and relished, but the weight of his thrilling guitar and thoughtful presence cannot be overstated in the dynamic of that group.
Ranaldo's solo output over the years has been prolific and diverse, including all sides of the SY equation, from blistering noise to quiet pop, but his second record with the Dust, his whip-smart band featuring SY's Steve Shelley on drums, Alan Licht on guitar, and Tim Luntzel on bass, is an outlet for his rock songs. There is an undeniable 1970s folky vibe to Ranaldo's songwriting, a strong Neil Young influence, with sweet, sad and sometimes hopeful vocal melodies surrounded by swirling guitar leads and physically embracing jams. Several of the tracks on Last Night on Earth could have ended up as Ranaldo's vocal turn on a Sonic Youth album, but in this different context, and with Licht and Luntszell adding the texture, and Ranaldo setting the tone, the songs are a bit more gentle, the edges less rough and the mood more mellow and "mature," even when the distortion is turned up loud, and Ranaldo and Licht's guitars careen off each other with abandon. Any fan of Ranaldo's indelible guitar playing will find a lot to enjoy here, on what is probably his best-realized solo pop statement, and great tracks like the dark, swirling epic "The Rising Tide" or the sweet jangle of "Lecce, Leaving" prove that while neither Lee Ranaldo and the Dust, Moore's Chelsea Light Moving nor Gordon's Body/Head can, or really even try to, fill the void that Sonic Youth left in our musical landscape, sometimes change is a good thing.
-Josh Madell (October 10, 2013)