Saturday, May 30, 2009


I got a copy of Sonic Youth's Sister the other day at Ameoba. I originally got it on cassette about twenty years ago, a few years after my brother got me into Sonic Youth. He had their first EP, the cassette version of which played the entire EP backwards on side two. We thought that was super cool, and dug the new-wavey, minimalist dub of the EP. Their subsequent albums went more the art/noise route, although they gradually began incorporating real songwriting into their repertoire of noise rock. Their 1988 double album Daydream Nation is widely regarded as a classic, but I have a special place in my heart for Sister, which came out in 1987.

The album opens up with the gorgeous, creepy "Schizophrenia." It starts off with a pretty guitar riff before devolving into noise, only to reconstruct itself around a different, equally pretty guitar riff. It was as noisy and raucous as punk, but much more complex and interesting. The same is true with most of the tracks on the album.

At it's heart, Sister (and Daydream Nation) is a psychedelic album. "Pipeline/Kill Time" with its swirling guitars, "Tuff Gnarl" with it's seventies rock grandeur, or the chaotic "White Cross." At their best, Sonic Youth combine the swirling guitars of psychelica, the chunky riffs of seventies rock, the attitude of punk, and the experimentation of their noise roots, and Sister is Sonic Youth at their best.

I think Sister remains my favorite Sonic Youth album, right up there with Daydream Nation and Sonic Nurse. I like the idea of Goo, but I never really listened to it that much, and they lost me around Dirty (although "100%" is still an amazingly kick ass song; I particularly like when they break out the baseball bats at the end).

They have a new album out, which I'm excited about. I took a pass on Rather Ripped, but their new one sounds like a return to form.
Although the first track I heard was a Kim Gordon number, and I have to say that I'm less and less enchanted with her off-key singing. I really dug it twenty years ago, but now I feel like it's been done, it's kind of annoying, and I'm over it.

As a side note, I saw them open for REM on REM's Monster tour around 1995, and they crowd was not feeling them. During one of their noisy feedback solos I looked around, and the entire crowd had their hands over their ears. It as awesome.

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