Since you're here after clicking on a headline about Kim Gordon and Stephen Malkmus, who have a pretty good new naïve-country song together called "Refute," you probably won't mind casting your mind back a quarter-century for a moment. In 1992, Pavement and Mudhoney opened for Sonic Youth on the Pretty Fucking Dirty tour; that fall, it ran through the Castaic Lake Recreation Area in California, a few miles north of Santa Clarita. Richard Cromelin was there, and he wrote about it for the Los Angeles Times. Here is his kicker, one of the most acutely early-'90s paragraphs I've ever read:
Second-billed Mudhoney's uneven set was memorable mainly for the materialization of Nirvana's reclusive Kurt Cobain, who preceded his Seattle homeboys with a solo acoustic song and later sat in on the encore. Pavement opened the show, the second concert at a site whose surreal, prison-camp vibe and traffic difficulties make the Hollywood Palladium seem like paradise.
It seems weird now that Cromelin waited until the very end of his piece to point out that Kurt Cobain was there, one year after Nevermind, playing an acoustic song by a polluted lake. In hindsight, his review is a little harrowing. "Fans tend to worry—often with good reason—when dissident forces strike deals with the power structure," he wrote, "but Sonic Youth has come through two major-label albums now and remained a worthy standard-bearer, its integrity, independence and creative juice still as strong as ever." Cobain never fully got his mind around that.
Anyway, I think Cromelin's point was that Sonic Youth had figured out a way to take their SoHo art-punk noise and work it into something accessible without sacrificing everything that made the band enticing in the first place. Which leads us back to Gordon and Malkmus and "Refute," which bounds along, punctuated by a little slide guitar and a couple of fiddle solos, pulled back by some dark stories about love and Ritalin and au pairs. It's poppy and melodic, but it retains a sharp enough edge lyrically and emotionally. It's taken from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks' new album, Sparkle Hard, out on Matador on May 18.
Listen to "Refute" below.
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