Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree – Names of North End Women

Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree’s collaboration has strong moments but too often drifts into aimlessness

Album Review by Joe Creely | 20 Feb 2020
  • Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree – Names of North End Women
Album title: Names of North End Women
Artist: Lee Ranaldo & Raül Refree
Label: Mute Records
Release date: 21 Feb

In the combining of two prestigious talents in Sonic Youth’s legendary guitarist, and the experimental guitarist and producer best known for work with Rosalía, the signs are good for a record that sculpts unusual and uncommon sounds into strong songs. The respective talent of Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree is inarguable, but unfortunately the record doesn’t quite achieve its goal, often seemingly unable to decide in which direction to head.

Much like Refree’s Fado-updating Lina_ Raül Refree collaboration, there's a clear attempt to refract old world styles (in this case American folk traditions) through the lens of contemporary avant-garde production techniques. But unfortunately, whilst Lina... had clear focus and structures to experiment around, this work relies upon Ranaldo’s often rather directionless lyrics and limp delivery. Too often the words are guilty of falling into cliché, particularly on closer At the Forks which feels like an attempt to rewrite a Baez or Dylan style protest song whilst emphasising their tendency towards the cloying, the humourless and turgid symbolism. Ultimately the record's strongest moments are instrumental.

Evidently starting as musique concrète-style abstract pieces, they are dense with interesting sounds, be it the spectral wail on opener Alice, Etc. or the gritty feedback that emerges at the centre of The Art of Losing, but they are rarely arranged in ways that feel like cohesive pieces. Barring strong lead single Names of North End Women, which lets its shuffling rhythm be a centre around which the tumbling arpeggios and wiry guitar lines can move around with momentum, the tracks are defined by having a few strong sonic ideas but ultimately outstaying their welcome.

Ultimately we are left frustrated. Names of North End Women is a record made by two artists with a clear talent for producing interesting sounds, but ultimately lacks the focus needed to turn those sounds into gripping works.

Listen to: Names of North End Women, Alice