Ex-Sonic Youth-Gitarrist Ranaldo und Refree arbeiteten bereits zusammen an Ranaldos letztem Soloalbum „Electric Trim“ (Mute, 2017), und schon bald, nachdem das Paar ins Studio zurückgekehrt war, um den nun vorliegenden Nachfolger aufzunehmen, erkannten sie, dass dies – frei nach Ric Blaine, „der Beginn einer neuen Partnerschaft, einer neuen Konfiguration“ werden würde, wie Ranaldo es ausdrückt. Eine, die erstaunlich gitarrenfrei ist, wenn man die Vita der Beiden danebenhält, möchte man zufügen.
Ranaldo and Refree worked together Ranaldo’s last solo album, Electric Trim (Mute, 2017), and soon after the pair returned to the studio to record the follow up they realised that Names of North End Women would become what Ranaldo describes as “the beginning of a new partnership, a new configuration’”.
For one of the greatest guitarists, ranked by both Rolling Stone and Spin, of his generation (Ranaldo co-founded Sonic Youth in 1981) and an artist reinventing traditional flamenco guitar (Refree’s album with Rosalía continues to grow internationally), this is an album that features tracks with little or no guitar. Instead the duo composed using marimba and vibraphone, using samplers, a vintage 2-inch Studer tape recorder and a modified cassette machine Ranaldo had previously used in performances 25 years earlier.
“We were mixing in all these strange analogue sounds from old cassette tapes, dealing with tape hiss; using very new technology and very old technology and mixing them together,” remembers Ranaldo. Elements from a mysterious old tape Ranaldo found spooled on the Studer when he’d bought it years earlier – drum sounds, slamming doors, people talking – formed the backbone of tracks. The music, it seemed, could come from literally anywhere.
“This record began as playing with samplers and cassette players,” says Refree, “as experimental music, musique concrete, poly-rhythms.” As the process wore on, however, their abstractions materialised into songs, their elemental rhythms, ambient hums and sampler damage revealing hidden melodies and patterns upon deep listening. Ranaldo and Refree traded melodic ideas and added vocals to the tracks, singing in addition to the spoken word pieces they’d always planned these pieces to feature. The words came in a process akin to the music, a collagist philosophy prevailing, as Ranaldo recomposed poems from his archives, wrote new pieces and incorporated lines sent in by Jonathan Lethem – who’d helped pen the songs of Electric Trim.