The fact that Electric Trim is both Lee Ranaldo's most collaborative and personal solo rock album since Sonic Youth disbanded is striking in and of itself. A true punk poet and guitar scientist, Ranaldo has an established voice in underground music; his phrasing and attack as a singer and freeform lyricist is idiosyncratic and easily recognizable.
On this joyful, open record, Ranaldo is certainly himself but he's entrusted a lot of weightlifting to producer Raül "Refree" Fernandez and, as a co-lyricist, to author Jonathan Lethem. Fernandez pushes Ranaldo to treat the studio more like an instrument, layering and treating multiple instruments on the tone-setting opener "Moroccan Mountains" and pushing the weirdly macabre "Uncle Skeleton" forward with drum machines. He also takes advantage of Ranaldo's vocal presence, pushing him to sing differently (see the almost Vincent Price-esque break in "Thrown Over the Wall").
The effect is a rather psychedelic experience, with more than one allusion to experimentation by the Beatles. Guests like Sharon Van Etten (who sings backup on six songs, including a duet on "Last Looks"), drummer Kid Millions and Wilco guitarist Nels Cline each add interesting textures, bolstering Ranaldo's own band, the Dust.
Ranaldo and Lethem exchanged lyric ideas, often in a remote, fill-in-the-blank or "Hey, is this something?" kind of way, but the overall sense is that these are coherent, reflective songs. In his own poetic way, Ranaldo comes across like a guy who's taking stock of himself, his family, his work, the world and what life is all about. In many respects, the introspective exercise yields exciting results, and that exuberance is uncontainable.
The welcoming salutation "Hello" recurs on Electric Trim. Virtually everything here, in its own edgy manner, points to light, hope and the endless possibility of the human spirit. (Mute)