Lee Ranaldo Offers Quirky Mix of Experimental Pop On ‘Electric Trim’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Lee Ranaldo has moved on (even dropping The Dust moniker) from his smoothly polished 2013 release Last Night on Earth to Electric Trim. This release is a quirky mix of Beatles inspired experimental pop that hints at something lurking just at the edges.

Opening with an enigma of a track that feels stapled together, “Moroccan Mountains” states Ranaldo’s intentions from the start, this will not be a straight-ahead ride.  The song runs seven and half minutes and weaves in and out of various nooks and crevices. An acoustic introduction opens with Ranaldo’s spoken word statements as backward tape spins and woodblock clicks to form odd eastern patterns; there is an ominous feeling present which doesn’t shake itself for the whole album, infecting the mood and tone of all the tracks. The song then flashes a chaotic build before violins and bird chirps seem to mellow the proceedings out, only to end with a violent lyrical downtown threat and broken noses.    

This layered and twisting path is reminiscent of the cover art which shows an empty two-lane road with burnt rubber marks, cracks in the pavement, and white and yellow street lines all lined by shady green trees. Somehow this complex yet natural shot completely matches the multi-tiered tracks here.  

“Uncle Skeleton” keeps up the backward tapes adding hand drums and acid trip lyrics while “Let’s Start Again” is piano driven with a skipping odd dance beat weirdly slapped in the middle. Ranaldo’s vocals are at the forefront and he switches from his speaking tone to a restrained singing style with ease; each solo release finds him more and more confident in his voice. He also gets some help from Sharon Van Etten who sings on six of the tracks here but most prominently on the serene yet never peaceful “Last Looks”.  Producer Raül ‘Refree’ Fernandez collaborated musically as well while Jonathan Lethem helped with lyrics on the most literary and best grooving track, the huge drum based “Purloined”.

His main band The Dust (drummer Steve Shelley, guitarist Alan Licht and bassist Tim Luntzel) and good friend Nels Cline are here as well, contributing on tracks like the successful  “Circular (Right as Rain)” which is pop-driven with freak out flashes. “New Thing” is a seven-minute closer that combines everything Ranaldo is shooting for with this album as it soars via piano runs, acoustic strums, electric fuzz and the ever-present Beatle influence.

Sure the Fab Four can be heard on a lot of records, but Ranaldo seems to have ingested them and brings out elements of everything they did with studio dexterity. Harrison’s organic simplicity, Lennon’s ominous warnings, and McCartney’s sweet soaring all arrive when needed. The title track and “Thrown Over The Wall” continue the thread and while this isn’t an instantly relatable album, and could use some editing to solidify the sound, it still roots itself and grows taller with each listen. From the excellent noise rock of Between The Time and The Tides (2012) to the easy-going Last Night on Earth (2013) to the multi-faceted Electric Trim, Ranaldo’s solo catalog continues to expand in wondrous ways   

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