Lee Ranaldo Credit: courtesy the artist

Lee Ranaldo has always had literary predilections. During his years in Sonic Youth he was the guy who’d often unleash quasi-Beat language in carefully spoken rushes, and in recent years his solo projects have made it obvious that he was the source of his previous band’s classic-rock flirtations. Both of those qualities are slathered all over Electric Trim (Mute), his latest album with his working band the Dust—guitarist Alan Licht, bassist Tim Luntzel, and drummer Steve Shelley, his former Sonic Youth cohort. Sharon Van Etten provides gorgeous, simpatico vocal harmonies on most of the songs, and a number of high-profile musicians, including guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Kid Millions, make cameo appearances. About half of Electric Trim features lyrics Ranaldo cowrote with popular novelist and essayist Jonathan Lethem. Among them is “Uncle Skeleton,” which neither of them should’ve allowed to reach the public. Over a moody opening groove with characteristically dreamy lead guitar, Ranaldo intones, “We’re coming in for a landing . . . all right, here we go.” He then abuses the old spiritual “Dem Bones”—try not cringe when he sings “The face bone’s connected to the hand bone / Bite the hand the skeleton feeds” in an attempt to convey some notion that flesh is impermanent and deceptive while bones are the real deal. Despite these occasional recitations and overly ponderous lyrics, the music arrives as one of the most graceful and lovely things Ranaldo has ever created. “Let’s Start Again” is awash in stinging orchestral guitar textures and plangent brass from Xavi de la Salud, while “Purloined” sparkles within a thudding groove and a lovely, soulfully delivered melody.   v