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Sonic Youth: The Eternal (Album Review)

After nearly 20 years, America’s foremost indie-rock band is back on an independent record label.

Dissatisfied with how Geffen had handled its past few albums, Sonic Youth left the label after its 2006 release “Rather Ripped” and chose New York indie Matador to release its 16th album, “The Eternal.” As it happens, it’s Sonic Youth’s most compelling album in years.

The band has always had a penchant for musical experimentation that sometimes veers into outright noise, but “The Eternal” follows the path of its best work by balancing the musicians’ avant-garde tendencies with accessibility on songs that are taut, inventive and sometimes downright exhilarating.

Although it comes 21 years after “Daydream Nation,” the band’s touchstone record, “The Eternal” feels like a natural successor — the result, perhaps, of Sonic Youth’s reviving the 1988 album for a series of live performances in 2007 and then hitting the studio with producer John Agnello (whose résumé includes records by Dinosaur Jr, the Hold Steady and the Kills).

Lee Ranaldo’s guitar crackles with restless energy as it gallops across the opening song, “Sacred Trickster,” and he and guitarist Thurston Moore undermine the mellow chiming notes that open “Antenna” with controlled bursts of noise. The noise grows into sonic squalls on “What We Know,” threatening at times to overwhelm the brawny riff that drives the song and creating a thrilling tension.

Moore, a Bethel Connecticut native who now lives in Northampton, Mass., sings most of the songs, switching off at times with wife and band mate Kim Gordon and Ranaldo. Gordon sings with fierce abandon on “Calming the Snake” and trades lyrics in a call-and-response with Moore on the polemical “Anti-Orgasm.”

There’s no guessing what might happen next, which makes “The Eternal” an exciting record, full of twists and turns and dissonant digressions. It’s rock ‘n’ roll the way it’s meant to be: tuneful, raw and in your face.