On Washing Machine (DGC), Sonic Youth attempt their most audacious step yet: an easy-listening album. Mellow by their standards, anyway. Unlike 1994’s sputtery Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, these songs unfold over even-tempered rhythms and guitars that linger rather than attack. A splatter of distortion may enter, but the effect is mostly languid and wonderfully hypnotic.
The material isn’t always up to the challenge, and Kim Gordon’s death-mask whisper has taken on a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? quality. But they explore new layers of eeriness on ”Trouble Girl,” a teen-pregnancy lullaby, and even at 19 minutes, ”The Diamond Sea” is one of their finest one-third hours. The waves of guitars spread over the melody like gentle ripples, and the sentiments are disarmingly tender: ”Sail into the heart of the lonely storm/And tell her that you love her eternally,” advises Thurston Moore. Then, just as your ears start to relax, the guitars lock into idle riffs and build up to a fire-alarm symphony — but slowly, gradually. Sonic Youth never let you forget that a storm often lurks beneath the calm. A-