Sonic Youth albums
Sonic Youth is a band that you always read as “obsessed with sex, death, and the seedy underbelly of life”. This is not really the case because put in more normal terms, that is what every band tries to do. A more accurate assumption would be that the band discusses relationships with people and relationships with the society in which we live. Often these things exist in chaos and most people would avoid any serious subject matter, but Sonic Youth do it with poetry and style, which is a very hard thing to do. Along with this, the music is really the emphasis in the band and they often use alternate tunings beyond normal peoples’ comprehension. Yeah, if you took apart everything they did you could brag about figuring all of the tunings out on guitar/bass/whatever, but I digress again. Once they built up a fan base in the mid-90’s, they got more artistic freedom by opening up their own record label.
So what makes this my personal favorite band, and also one of the hardest to get into for a lot of music people? Well, while most bands have their own “sound”, Sonic Youth really have their own “universe”, finding a way of combining accessible experimentation better than anyone ever has. Their records are the one thing I look for, consistent; there is not a more consistent band around in rock music that I know of. When pop music is at its worst, good artists have to arise to combat it and in a way, SY could only have come out of the 1980’s (a time for horrible pop, kind of like the 2000’s). Its been said the band is pretentious and maybe too artsy, but until the release of the SY series EP’s I don’t really see that; while we’re at it that “Nosie-jam” side of the band that has seeped through in the 2000’s is not their best period. No band has been as good as long as this band has though, about twenty five years into their career. Also, there has never been a band so influential to everything that has come after it in music, you can hear echoes of their trademark sound in almost any band from 1983-present. That is the mark of true talent, and there is not more talent in a band then there is in Steve Shelly, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, and Lee Ranaldo, the core of Sonic Youth throughout all of these years.
Thurston Moore – Guitar, Vocals
Lee Ranaldo – Guitar, Vocals
Kim Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Jim O’Rourke – Bass (Murray Street – Rather Ripped)
Steve Shelly – Drums (Evol – current)
Bob Bert – Drums (Bad Moon Rising)
Best Album: Daydream Nation or Sister
Biggest Influences: The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, Can, Glenn Branca, Captain Beefheart
1982 – (5 / 5) – Confusion is Sex
1985 – (4 / 5) – Bad Moon Rising
1986 – (4.5 / 5) – Evol
1987 – (5 / 5)+ – Sister
1988 – (5 / 5)+ – Daydream Nation
1990 – (5 / 5) – Goo
1992 – (5 / 5) – Dirty
1994 – (4 / 5) – Experimental, Jet Set, Thrash and No Star
1995 – (4.5 / 5) – Washing Machine
1998 – (5 / 5) – Thousand Leaves
2000 – (1.5 / 5) – NYC Ghosts and Flowers
2002 – (4 / 5) – Murray Street
2004 – (4 / 5) – Sonic Nurse
2006 – (3.5 / 5) – Rather Ripped
2009 – (2 / 5) – The Eternal
Confusion is Sex – (5 / 5)
The first Sonic Youth album definitely ain’t your average listen, but it is way better than its reputation seems to be these days. The album is very bleak overall, but that doesn’t distract from the greatness of its atmosphere. That atmosphere is defiantly dark; the band was rebelling against the joy of a nation and wanted to show off its dissonant sound. These things are important to know about the album before listening, as well as that the album is consistent through and through! Four songs each from Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, where the former’s are tribal and dark (much like the S.Y. EP was from a year earlier) and the latter’s are rocking and punky. The album has good flow, to open with sinister guitar pieces like “Bad Mood” and “Protect Me You” (both with a horror movie type atmosphere) was a great idea, and just when the sound turns to total annihilation on “Shaking Hell”, it gets to its most accessible and punk influenced style with “Inhuman” and “The World Looks Red”. “Making that Nature Scene” is another tribal and noise infected tune towards the end of the record, with great Kim Gordon lyrics such as “Fragmentation is the rule / unity was not taught in school!”
The band proves their skill at creating albums upfront with great song order and showing hints of genius. A lot of subtle things Sonic Youth do get confused with pretentiousness and it really isn’t fair, but I guess a band this original would have to have people who are jealous. The album is not quite perfect, showing flaws with the last half of “Confusion is Next” being a little too hardcore in nature, the awkward transition of “Freezer Burn/I Wanna be Your Dog”, and the misstep of closing instrumental “Lee is Free” (the only Ranaldo written tune and the only bad song on here). But Confusion is Sex is only about thirty-five minutes long and that makes for a very brief, interesting listen. I can’t imagine the shock of hearing this record in 1983, but hearing it many years later is still astonishing. Dark rock music at its best, and the introduction of something completely different into the world of rock ‘n roll.
Greatest Tracks: Protect Me You, Inhuman, The World Looks Red, Making the Nature Scene
SideNote: Cd editions of the album contain the Kill Yr Idols EP as well, which include the classic early tracks “Kill Yr Idols” and live staple “Brother James”. I pretty much consider them the appendage to the first album. “Halloween” is the 3rd track, but it is not as essential.
Bad Moon Rising – (4 / 5)
On their second album, the band adds a new drummer (Bob Bert) and expands their sound. In fact the “Intro” to this album is an almost happy song, but with no words, just the sound of the guitars clanging for about one minute. It is rather misleading in a way because this album is almost as gloomy as its predecessor, BUT it is not misleading in the way it shows the band in a transitional phase. That is key for this album, because you can tell the band is changing, but it is hard to say for better or worse. Regardless of that worry, there are some great songs on here. Thurston Moore makes a great stride in his lyrics in “Society is a Hole”; example sample: “my friends are girls wrapped in boys” and “we are living in pieces, I wanna live in peace”. Another great song is the sprawling eight minute “I Love Her all the Time”, which has a distinctive structure despite the bouts of noise throughout.
Actually, the best way to look at this album is not in its songs but in its moments, as there are only really seven full songs on here and only the two I mentioned before I would consider calling classics. But hey, the repetitious rant of “inside my head the dogs are bare and shoulda significant, I’m insane” in “I’m Insane” and the duet of Moore and Lydia Lunch on “DEATH VALLEY SIXTY-NIIIIIIIIIINE!” make the album worth investigating for the true fan of the band (though the latter song can grate a nerve or two at times, even for the die-hard SY fan). Bad Moon Rising is a pivotal album for the band, showing Sonic Youth reaching in many directions at once, but maybe too many? It is easy to dismiss this record as a mess, but if you do, you are missing out, because it’s a good record despite the insanity AND because of the insanity.
Greatest Tracks: Society Is A Hole, I Love Her All the Time, Death Valley ‘69
Evol – (4.5 / 5)
Evol takes the happy state from certain parts of the last album and turns them into pop songs. Not for the masses mind you, but a genre known as noise-pop like no one had really ever heard before. The influence of this record really can’t be overstated, though influence is not everything, and this album is in no way better than Confusion is Sex as it is often stated these days. Before I rant too much on that though, let me say I do think this is a great album, and yes the evolution toward more traditional structure started here. Let’s face it though, the band could not have made another scatterbrained record such as Bad Moon Rising and it be considered anything close to good, so this is a new “phase” of the band I believe (that is just my over analysis though; a band this creative really just evolves constantly with no planned phases). Anyways, most songs on here are in a more traditional pop music vain and it truly is a great, sprawling kind of music. One of the more interesting things that Sonic Youth’s noise rock does is show rock music an alternative to a “bridge” in a song, after the second chorus a period of noise exsits where the song temporarily loses structure or rhythm (or both) and then weaves itself back together. It is an ingenious invention.
Thurston Moor and Kim Gordon both stand out as songwriters: Gordon’s “Starpower” would be a pop single in a different universe and the part with the guitar “solo” is unforgettable; “Bubblegum” is such a catchy song that it HAS to be a joke, but it is an intriguing though self-mocking listen; Moore’s “Tom Violence” is a perfect opener and defines the rest of the album with its dreamy lyrics and breakdown at the end. Among the more abstract tunes are the instrumental “Death to Our Friends”, a fantastic display for new drummer Steve Shelly who really knows how to anchor the bands more abstract guitar soundscapes, and “In Kingdom # 19” which is the first successful song for guitarist Lee Ranaldo, whose songs combine beatnik poetry to abnormal guitar chords and tunings. Many songs recall the Sonic Youth of old, which has mixed results. “Shadow of a Doubt” succeeds in sounding like “Protect me You” form Confusion is Sex, however “Secret Girls” and “Marilyn Moore” fall flat on their faces and come off as Bad Moon Rising rejects. The whole album can be summed up by “Expressway to Yr Skull”, that gets the mix of structure and guitar noise just right (though even that song is about two minutes too long). Nothing about EVOL is traditional by any means, though it is far more accessible and positive then anything Sonic Youth has done so far, and really does point to a bright future unlike the previous two records that were covered in despair, though it was brilliant despair!
Greatest Tracks: Starpower, Death to Our Friends, Expressway to Your Skull, Shadow of a Doubt
Sister – (5 / 5)+
The fourth Sonic Youth record is not a step forward, but something else entirely. How did they go from Evol to this, one of the greatest records ever made?!? It can’t be explained but it can be heard, in songs where the sound shifts dramatically (“Catholic Block”, “Pipeline/Killtime”) or exist in a state of natural bliss where nothing can touch them (“Cotton Crown, “Beauty Lies in the Eye”). Sister is truly life changing, and anyone listening to this would be amazed by the complexity of the songs. I cannot think of any other album that has so many songs that make you want to crank it up over the bar on your car stereo; this album truly rocks hard. “Stereo Sanctity” is the best example of this, with its nonsense lyrics blending into its insane rev-up ending that gets you all excited for no other reason than the song is so good. Lyric sample: “Hey/ hyper-static information/ come on let’s hear you turn around.” “Hot Wire my Heart” is a blazing cover that gets an little known punk band (the band Crime and the City Solution) and really I can’t think of a more perfect closer to an intense album than “White Cross”.
In a way, this is SY’s most unified album, because on a lot of the songs you can tell that they collaborated on the vocals at least if not also the music; the beautiful “Cotton Crown” in particular. “Tuff Gnarl” is an example of how a song starts off normal, but then loses its way on purpose, so that it finds that happy medium of pop music mixed with total nonsense that most people would avoid. While most songs on here rock the listener hard, a couple are also relaxing to listen to and the diversity and breaks in atmosphere help the album maintain its perfect (yes, perfect) pacing. What makes Sonic Youth one of the best bands on the planet is for being accessible while also experimental, and this would really be the album that presents that side of them best in a concise form. The song lengths and shapes of atonal guitar weaving are kept to the structure of the “pop song” and the results are simply amazing.
No one prior to Sonic Youth has ever done rock music in the same way, the closest contemporaries prior would be Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain, Kevin Ayers’ Shooting at the Moon, Can’s Ege Bamyasi, Frank Zappa’s We’re Only in it For the Money, and the more obvious Velvet Underground’s Velvet Underground & Nico. Like I always say, none of this would matter if the music was not good, but I cannot think of better experimental yet accessible music, besides one other SY album. I could talk through every song on Sister honestly, but I will end by saying Sonic Youth pretty much begins their mission to change rock and roll into something extraordinary and magical on this record, and it is perfect.
Greatest Tracks: Stereo Sanctity, Tuff Gnarl, Beauty Lies in The Eye, Catholic Block, Cotton Crown
Daydream Nation – (5 / 5)+
The ultimate double album. The greatest musical thing ever made in my opinion; possibly the greatest rock record of all time. I’ve never heard anything this great in my life, there is something magical about each song. It flows perfectly and it is basically Sister but longer, more free, and more expressive. “Teenage Riot” is an awesome opener: long but not boring, with an intro to die for and a melody that could win even the biggest anti-Sonic Youth fan over. “Silver Rocket” is the first rocker of the album, and it rocks at first then falls apart (again during the bridge so on purpose) only to reconstruct itself and end in a majestic finale. “Total Trash” is similar and is Thurston Moore’s supreme statement, with the coolest guitar riff imaginable and a breakdown section in the middle that reinvents EVERYTHING IN MUSIC that has come before. “The Sprawl” is the first Kim Gordon song on here, and I have to say, she surprised me here. On this album, more than any prior, she proved she is truly capable of some great work. That song is unbelievable, as are the acquired taste “’Cross the Breeze” and pop single wannabe “Kissability”. “Eric’s Trip” is Lee Ranaldo’s first song on here, another great poetic rocker that nails his songwriting style once and for all, though “Rain King” is even better and ups the ante for intelligent rock music. Ranaldo’s “Hey Joni” is a nod to Joni Mitchell and using guitar harmonics in fantastic ways proving Moore and Ranldo are guitar gods.
Delicate moments throughout (the end of “The Sprawl”, “Providence”, an answering message by Minutemen’s Mike Watt which is the ‘ballad’ of the album) keep the record solid all the way though and relax the listener in order to rejuvenate for the next barrage of rock n’ roll. The closing “Trilogy” of songs is a summary of a person’s thoughts as they go through life, all confused and alienated; it is yet another crowning achievement of Sonic Youth and magnificent to behold. First is “The Wonder”, a Thurston rocker that uses dissonant guitar noise to illustrate a new soul in a new town; the “Hyper Station” is the loneliness and sadness we all feel in life as we try to find our place in the universe; and lastly “Eliminator Jr. is the apocalypse and the final joyride down the interstate at full speed as we decide to run for our lives and embrace life to the fullest. Last but not least, Steve Shelly’s drumming keeps the band in line, and the band would not be near as good without his power and ability to hold everything together despite the ventures into what can only be described as “sound painting with guitar nosie”.
Not to sound clichéd, but art rock mixes with melody in ways never heard before on Daydream Nation, changing music forever. Is it an easy listen? Surprisingly yes: beneath the roar of guitar noise are some of the best melodies ever penned and even though the album is seventy minutes long, it actually leaves you wanting more once you’ve absorbed it. Absorb is the key word, but anyone calling this album self-indulgent noise is just not opening their ears or their mind, which is what good music should be all about! If any album should be brought to life, it is this one. If one record should be preserved in a box for all time, it’s Daydream Nation. I truly believe that with all my heart.
Greatest Tracks: Every single one of them
Goo – (5 / 5)
Can a band follow the best album ever made? Sonic Youth proved you can, and then some. Goo is a great album, and even though it goes for a more conventional “sound”, the music itself is way more difficult than Sister or Daydream Nation. Those two records got the fusion just right, and that kind of consistency is nearly impossible to maintain. Most people criticize Goo for being too pop-rock and too “mainstream”, but evidently they didn’t bother to listen to the album before you talk! There isn’t one bad song one here, though some take several listens to sink in, and the band’s sense of humor has never been more present. The Chuck D hip hop cameo on “Kool Thing”, subject matter about dating the Virgin Mary on “Mary Christ”, and the hilarious lyrics to “My Friend Goo”. If these songs were “traditional radio music” like they are often labeled, maybe I would listen to the radio. The balance of humor vs. drama keeps the album afloat, as songs that tackle past tragedies (“Tunic”), old movie stars (“Mildred Pierce”, the lovely mess), and just plain poetry in motion (“Disappeared”, “Mote”) make up the serious portion of the music.
Songs of this magnitude set an example for all of rock music, and in my opinion, this is the best guitar playing found on any rock record of the 20th century (yes, better than Daydream Nation in that respect). Just listen to “Dirty Boots”, “Mary Christ”, “Disappeared”, and “Titanium Expose” and get the example of how complicated music should be played. “Titanium Expose” in itself is one of the band’s best songs, with its unbelievable structure (a song within a song within a song). There is some challenging material, like the earlier mentioned “Kool Thing”, “Mildred Pierce”, and the most different of all, “Cinderella’s Big Score”. I know what people say to themselves here, because I said it too at one point. But Sonic Youth is a band that takes risks and their difficulties make them great. If you can’t get it and don’t like the more difficult passages (oh, who doesn’t love the four minutes of static at the end of Ranaldo’s “Mote”?), I assure you will at least like something from Goo. This album remains as the 3rd in the row of great Sonic Youth masterworks. If you are interested in Sonic Youth, Goo would be a fine place to start, if not the definitive place.
Greatest Tracks: Titanium Expose, Disappearer, Dirty Boots, Kool Thing
Dirty – (5 / 5)
Who would have thought that after all that Sonic Youth has accomplished, they would once again blow us all away with one of the best hard rock albums ever? Well Dirty is just that. Hard rock fan? Get this album, you will worship it. Goo was drifty, meditative, and more like Daydream Nation was, while this album is more like a 90’s version of Sister. Good order in picking the flow of songs, with “Theresa’s Sound World”, “Wish Fufillment”, and “Nic Fit” (with Ian McKaye from Fugazi doing what sounds like a Minor Threat parody) serving as kind of breaking points between all of the furious riffs. the rock songs are among the most furious and catchy in rock n roll history: “Purr”, “100%”, “Sugar Kane”, “Youth Against Fascism”, and “Chapel Hill”- all Moore at his best, all ranking among his greatest compositions, “pop” or otherwise. Yes, the album has kind of “grunge” influenced sound, just like Goo had a kind of “80’s production” one, but that in no way effects the quality of the songs.
When talking about Dirty, you have to talk about Kim Gordon, because she is the star of the album as far as personalities go. Her songs “Shoot”, “J.C.”, and “Crome Brulee” all try the listener’s patients at times, as she screams and grates her voice like she is giving birth while singing. While these three songs are defiantly the weakest on here and could have been removed, they are a bad example of Gordon’s true talent. “Drunken Butterfly”, “Swimsuit Issue”, “Orange Rolls, Angel Spit” and the moody “On the Strip” showoff Gordon’s continuing growth as a writer and should not be overlooked just because some of her singing is an acquired taste. In reality, the would be no Sonic Youth without Gordon; she makes the band complete and her contributions are among some of the best songs ever written. Simply put, when she is good she is very good! Dirty could be looked at as Kim Gordon’s album, as she has seven songs compared to Moore’s six and Ranaldo’s one. More of an even portion among songwriters and some song trimming would have made Dirty shorter and more to the point, which an album like this should be. Oh well though, it is still a masterpiece of how to incorporate noise-rock into the traditional pop structure. Whatever their intentions, Dirty stands today as the world’s most creative band’s hardest rocking album.
Greatest Tracks: Sugar Kane, On the Strip, Chapel Hill, Drunken Butterfly
Experimental Jet Set, Thrash and No Star – (4 / 5)
This album marks Sy’s return to experimentalism, or at least trying new and completely different sounds! It still has a leftover rock vibe from Dirty, but songs like “Winner’s Blues” (acoustic ballad that opens the album) and “Androgynous Mind” are just plain odd and follow no real verse-chorus structure at all. It is an album where many of the songs contain great moments: “Bull in the Heather” uses guitar harmonics as its chorus (I still have no idea how they play those that fast); “Starfield Road” is a noise-industrial-pop song; “Waist” has one of the best rock n roll guitar solo’s ever; “Screaming Skull” is a great rant about underrated bands and random topics (“Superchunk-Society-Sunset Strip-Screaming Skull-Society-Husker Du!”). Minus those exceptions though, most of the great songs on here are very verse-chorus-verse though, waaaayyy more than Dirty or Goo, and in a way this is the bands least experimental album.
Gordon ain’t as consistent on here as she was on the previous records, and most of her songs are confusing and not coherent, taking away from the atmosphere instead of adding to it. Don’t get me wrong, I loooove Kim Gordon, but she makes the album way too inconsistent, though “Bull in the Heather” and “Doctor’s Orders” are some of her best songs. The album also suffers from lack of a single Lee Ranaldo penned song (or at least Ranaldo sung, who knows who writes ’em when it is all said and done), and that is a shame. EJTN is the sound of the band needs a reinvention badly, because there are moments that are stale. I sound like I don’t like the record, but yet I give it a good rating? Well, nine or ten of the songs are enjoyable to me, but there are three levels of experimentation present: 1) great song implemented well. 2) confusing, though at least they are trying. 3) horrible, please make it stop!!!! The songs that don’t work at all (“Skink”, “Bone”, “Tokyo Eye”) make you hate the album more than one probably should, given its inconsistency. It’s still really good for such a transitional album, proving that even Sonic Youth leftovers are much more entertaining than most band’s best efforts.
Greatest Tracks: Screaming Skull, Bull in the Heather, Waist, Androgynous Mind
Washing Machine – (4.5 / 5)
Washing Machine is defiantly Sonic Youth’s warmest album, though it is a bit unpredictable. The first three songs on the album, one from each of the bands song writers, are some of the best they’ve done. Ranaldo succeeds even better later in the record with the awesome ramble of “Skip Tracer”, one of his best songs ever. Moore has the most accessible songs as usual, with “Unwind” and “No Queen Blues” being some of his more laid back songs. Gordon astonishes with greatness on “Becuz” and “Washing Machine”, the latter having the great lyrics of “I looked up in the clouds, and I saw this woman’s face, and she threw a quarter down at me and said go put it in a washing machine.” Oh, it’s as good as it sounds.
The biggest weakness this album has, is a couple of troubling experiments. “Little Trouble Girl” has Kim Deal of Pixies/The Breeders fame guesting on vocals is an acquired taste to say the least, “Thumb” just comes across as filler, and “Panty Lines” is so abrasive that most people will NOT like it at all (even though it has somehow grown on me to the point where I can stand it, if I have to). The good and the bad make for a very uneven album over all, but it is worth buying, if not just to hear “The Diamond Sea”, a twenty-minute song lullaby that drifts along in the ether. It’s a bit risky, but they pull it off pretty well, though it is far from their best song.
It is easy to see with the laid back attitude, as well as the length of “Washing Machine” and “The Diamond Sea” that the band is reaching a kind of loose, improvisational attitude, that is unlike what the band has attempted before (save Bad Moon Rising and Daydream Nation). The band up to this album was always about being concise in their songs and punk rock in their attitude, so this new element of warm songs with longer lengths makes the record a turning point of sorts. Washing Machine is not the most consistent Sonic Youth album, but some of the songs are so extraordinary that any fan would defiantly want this. It simultaneously creates a picture of why they are so great and so misunderstood.
Greatest Tracks: Skip Tracer, Becuz, No Queen Blues, No Queen Blues
A Thousand Leaves – (5 / 5)
Give the masters some credit for this, probably their most daring album to date. Half of the songs on this album are over six and a half minutes, and they all have their own flavor to them. This is a very bold statement, telling everyone that they are still the kings (and queen) of Rock music and they can be on top fifteen years after they first formed. “Sunday” will suck you in. The noises on “Karen Koltrane” would kill a normal man. “Wild Flower Soul” is the best example of the band expanding in a great, progressive rock sort of way with this nine-minute masterwork. “Snare Girl” is the sole misstep and should have been cut (it’s a long album anyway). “Hoarfrost” is a nice state of peaceful tranquility (that sounds kind of like a Slint outtake). “Contre le Sexisme” and “Heather Angel” are impenetrable openers and closers, and the latter is especially powerful as at first an experimental take without rhythm or reason and then a thrilling, dynamic noise rock album closer.
A Thousand leaves is a daring record that sums up who Sonic Youth is as a three person songwriting team working towards a common goal. The way they do peaceful kinds of songs with such malice and contempt is a joy to behold, and that is only half of the songs. The other half take you to another world, where guitars clang and clash with that great “chug” that is so familiar in indie music now. Kim Gordon does some of her best work on her songs here, especially the single ready “French Tickler”; Gordon is simply on fire throughout the record. A Thousand Leaves shows the band establishing their poetic side in a great way, with half of it being noisy and half being peaceful. It is hard to explain just like it is hard to absorb, just like it is great to cherish, and it is definitely one of their best records.
Greatest Tracks: Sunday, Karen Koltrane, Wild Flower Soul, Heather Angel
Sidenote: Sonic Youth novices, I would STOP HERE!!! The first 10 albums, or the 1980’s and 1990’s, or all the casual fan needs and serves as the best summary for the group. The final 5 albums are still good at times, don’t get me wrong, but don’t get them first as them are more of an acquired taste and do not serve as a good starting point.
NYC Ghosts and Flowers – (1.5 / 5)
Referred to by some as the beatnik album, it really should just be called the “Bad” one. Sonic Youth haters, here’s where I see your point! If the band ever went to overboard with their sound it is this album, which includes bad spoken word poetry (“Small Flowers”), the classic Gordon line “boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider; girls go to Mars become rock stars!”, and all around a sense of trying to be something they are not. They are all trying to be Lee Ranaldo with his poetry side, but not even the man himself can live up to things on his song “NYC Ghosts and Flowers”. “Renegade Princess” and “Streamsoniksubway” are some of Moore’s worst songs. “Lightnin'” sounds like a Royal Trux outtake, a band they directly influenced! The sole salvation of the record is Gordon’s “Side2side”, which does best what the whole album is obviously trying to do: go back to Bad Moon Rising’s style of experimentation and rambling. It fails on every account; do not get this album even if you are the biggest Sonic Youth fan ever. Well, it is an interesting novelty item, but get it cheap if you have to buy it, ’cause it is an unintentionally hilarious listen.
Greatest Songs: Side2side, Nevermind
Murray Street – (4 / 5)
The fact that Sonic Youth are still around is just amazing. I mean, they are still making good music after more than twenty years together, that is crazy! Murry Street is different than anything they have done in the past (so I will try not to compare it to their past albums, which most people would do); let’s just call it Sonic Youth: Phase Three (it’s jam band time). Most of the songs on Murry Street were written by Thurston Moore, the band’s chief songwriter and guitarist, and then introduced to the band so that they could add that Sonic Youth twist to them. Also, Jim O’Rourke joins the band on bass guitar permanently on this record, and Kim Gordon moved to guitar. The album has a folk-rock side to it, as the first two songs reveal (though keep in mind it is SY’s version of folk), and “Disconnection Notice” especially is a new classic. “Sympathy for Strawberry” is the highlight on the album, and it is among Sonic Youth’s (and Kim Gordon’s) greatest songs.
The only fault of the album is the ‘jams’ in some of the songs, they are just too long! “Rain on Tin” is the best example of a jam gone overboard, and “Karen Revisited” is another. It’s not that I mind there being about eight minutes of noise at the end of that (which is not too different then “Mote” on Goo) but then again the jamming on “Sympathy for Strawberry” works perfectly, so why couldn’t they at least make it interesting? It ruins what was one of Ranaldo’s best melodies for sure. “Plastic Sun” is a mad, badly worded Kim Gordon rant, but thankfully it is only two minutes long, so it comes off as humorous; “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style” is very similar in the “bad lyric” department, but more musical quality is there. This is better than the previous record to be sure, but more song ideas and less jamming next time, please! Murry Street is a great musical album if a rather annoying lyrical one, but with less time-consuming jamming and more actual songs it could have been another Sonic Youth classic, instead of being a flawed one. Overrated as a comeback, but still very good.
Greatest Tracks: Sympathy for Strawberry, Disconnection Notice, Karen Revisited (the first half)
Sonic Nurse – (4 / 5)
What an interesting title to an album. Why not just Nurse? I have an idea why. This album in a way shows every side of the band (at least the post-Experimental Jet Set version anyways), so it could very well be self titled Sonic Youth. But the first EP is already called that. So instead we get Sonic Nurse as the title. Make sense? Well, this album does show off the band very well, but it is almost as if the band cannot stop playing on each song. If each of these songs were just two minutes shorter apiece, the album would be consistently listenable; the exception being the truly great tunes: “Dripping Dream”, Ranaldo’s “Paper Cup Exit”, and album finale “Peace Attack”, all of which I enjoy and are great. “Dripping Dream” is Moore’s best song in quite some time, shifting forms several times and rambling about “the green dream wax” in “mother africa”, and “Paper Cup Exit” is an all-time standout for Ranaldo as well.
While every song on here has good ideas within it, most songs on here are over-developed. They don’t quite know what they want to do, so they drifffffft arrrrooooouuuunnnd. “Unmade Bed”, “New Hampshire”, and “Stones” are good examples of this. Gordon gives us the upbeat side of the album, something she has always been good at, and “Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream” (not a pretentious title, right?) and “Pattern Recognition” are some of the band’s better rockers, though I would not call either one great. I know I sound really negative but I just can’t shake a certain feeling I have about this record! I do like the album, but it is a hard album to get into and just too long for its own good. I give it a good rating, but everything about this album makes me think SY will keep making records like this, instead of the glory days like 1983-1998. They have strayed pretty far from conventional rock, but they are not thinking enough about where they are going and could end up as a lousy jam band. We’ll just see what the future holds……
Greatest Tracks: Dripping Dream, Paper Cup Exit, Peace Attack, New Hampshire
Rather Ripped – (3 / 5)
Rather Ripped is the bands 14th studio album and it’s a lazy attempt at a full length. They should have waited a year or so before they released another album because they have been on kind of a downward spiral for the past couple. First thing is first: Jim O’Rourke has left, and the two albums he made with the band, Murray Street and Sonic Nurse, will forever be viewed as the “JIMMY AGE” from here on out! The band’s sound is not too different, except that they have chosen to go for a much lighter approach and also a less lengthy one. That is what they needed to do, their sound was meandering a bit on the 00’s albums so far. However, the quality is lacking. Ranaldo’s “Rats” is, at best, a fun mess. Moore’s songs are not near his awe-inspiring stuff in the past, the best being “Incinerate” and the greatest Rather Ripped has to offer, “Pink Steam”, a very epic and enchanting progressive guitar workout. Kim Gordon has refined her approach to “touching” instead of “ugly” for the most part, and when it works like on “Jams Run Free” and the gorgeous “The Neutral” it is wonderful. It does not work on “Turquoise Boy” and “What a Waste” though, and the songs sound, you guessed it- lazy.
There are some other good/fair songs, but they are not really worth mentioning; all of the songs on here kind of sound subdued, like the band was trapped in bed while writing the music! Moore has been quoted as saying this record is their “prettiest” and “most radio friendly” record so far, ah I don’t know…it’s just not that interesting! “Sleeping Around” may have revealed more about Moore and Gordon’s personal life in retrospect (whoopsie!). “Or” is the only slow tune on here, and it leaves kind of an odd impression on the listener, but those last three songs do leave hope that the band has not lost its mind altogether. They just need to stop being so prolific already; we all love you S.Y., but you don’t have to make an album every 2 years anymore! Regroup, go crazy, then write some good stuff. By their Very high standards, Rather Ripped is a disappointment from Rock n’ Roll’s greatest pioneers.
Greatest Tracks: Pink Steam, The Neutral, Jams Run Free
The Eternal – (2.5 / 5)
More of the same downward trajectory and it didn’t help that Moore and Gordon’s marriage was disintegrating around this time. A let down for sure, but to be expected. R.I.P. Sonic Youth; it was the best ride of all time!
Greatest Tracks: Anti Orgasm, Antenna, Sacred Trickster
Compilations (EP’s, Live Albums, B-Sides, etc.)
Sonic Youth EP – (3.5 / 5)
The first glimpse of the Sonic Youth to the world. The “no wave” scene of New York City was made in response to the “new wave” one sweeping the country radio stations, and on the tail end of that scene came Sonic Youth. The music sounds tribal, primitive, repetitive, and bleak; pretty much everything the band is known for, eh? Early Sonic Youth defiantly had its share of negative vibes to say the least, so the first jaunt into the world of rock for the band was not accessible at all. Of course, the band could not have it any other way. Thurston Moore says in the liner notes of this EP he “would not want to open the album with an E chord or something, that would be too normal, so it opens with one loud snare hit.” This opening song, “The Burning Spear”, builds up to something but almost ends too soon. The opposite can be said for the next song, “I Dreamed I Dream”, which is by far the best song on here. Sung by Kim Gordon in her unique vocal style (with some random background vocals by a member of the band that doesn’t sound familiar, temporary drummer Richard Edson), the song is a great, demented ballad that takes the listener on a ride like all good SY songs do. “She is Not Alone” and “I Don’t Want to Push it” lack something, and I can’t really say what it is; they are just kinda boring songs that use random tribal instruments instead of guitars to jerk the songs along. The closer “The Good and the Bad” bring back the guitar clanging the band has made famous, but there is some good and some bad about that song. It is too long, switches directions to many times, and overall points toward a confusing future. Of course the band would not have it any other way, but the thing this EP establishes on first listen, as if you bought it back in 1982, is that the band experiments and sometimes it works.