Thursday, October 28, 2010

Underrated, Automatic, and Discarded

Sonic Youth was my favorite band for a short time in the mid 80's.  Every album they released was an explosion of my world.  I still consider EVOL to be one of the greatest albums of all time, and Bad Moon Rising isn't far behind.

Unlike the rest of the Pitchfork generation, I consider Daydream Nation their falling off point.  Actually, I probably only think that because DN was when it became clear that they were a psychedelic rock band that experiments rather than an experimental band that rocked.  That might have been okay, but I never felt that songwriting was their strong suit, even if they still did occasionally hit the jackpot.

I bought every album they did up to Murray Street (2002 - and the only reason that I got that one after the bitter disappointment of NYC Ghosts & Flowers is that Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich from Borbetomagus were on it).  I kept each one up through A Thousand Leaves, for a while, at least.  With NYC Ghosts & Flowers and Murray Street, I kept them for a month or two, and then traded them in.  After that, I would try to listen to the albums, but they were never in my budget for purchase.  As of now, I have DN on back, Washing Machine, and A Thousand Leaves (not counting their experimental releases on their own label, which I have most of: they are as hit-and-miss as their main releases, but when they fail, they fail in more interesting ways).

I have a certain soft spot for Goo, but it just didn't hold up for me.  As a matter of fact, I think that A Thousand Leaves is their best album post - SST . . . if I'm going to pick one "mainstream" Sonic Youth album to listen to, A Thousand Leaves is it.

It is here where Sonic Youth's psychedelic rock sound is at its most cohesive.  The album starts with "Contre Le Sexisme", a concrete voice-and-noise collage similar to what they've been doing since day one, followed by "Sunday", a sepia-tinged noise psychedelia much like what they started on Daydream Nation.  As it goes on, it becomes clear that none of this is new for Sonic Youth, but that it may be the best distillation that they came up with.  "Hits of Sunshine (for Allen Ginsberg)" stands as the best post-noise psychedelic workout that they have thus far recorded.

If you are a casual Sonic Youth listener and not familiar with this album, check it out.  If you are not familiar with Sonic Youth (anybody here?), this album is not what the fuss is about.  Check out Bad Moon Rising instead.

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I've immersed myself in the wild, wild world of Robert Ashley lately.  Atalanta (Acts of God) I & II are huge, sprawling operas (somewhere around 4 hours total, I believe) that I have yet to get a handle on, though on first listen, it seems that parts of the opera were a huge influence on Laurie Anderson (though "influence" may be kind).  Automatic Writing, on the other hand, is fairly simple in concept and execution.  I could go in in some detail, but I couldn't put it better than Ashley's Wikipedia entry (go down to section 4 for specific notes) or the notes to the blog that has the recording.

Other than that, all I have to say is, if you want to creep out a Halloween party this weekend, Automatic Writing could be one of your best friends.

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This is a nice little item I found here.  Once again, I'm not going to go into much detail, because it's all there, but just to tantalize you: a cassette compilation made of songs taken from the memory cards of discarded cell phones from Africa.  How cool is that?


DC said...

Tell me you have checked out Rather Ripped and just forgot to put it on here? That is one of the best Sonic Youth albums. The very first one (i think? Same name as band on SST?) is really good too.

Great post.

Bill Zink said...

I remember thinking Rather Ripped was better than anything since 2000, but it didn't stick with me. I will go back and listen to it again.

The first Sonic Youth was re-issued on SST, and I do really like it. It is actually the most unique sounding SY album. SST's cassette version of the re-issue had the whole album on side A, and the whole album BACKWARDS on side B, which was really cool. Their first drummer, Richard Edson, co-starred with John Lurie in Jim Jarmusch's Down By Law.

For me, the big three were Confusion is Sex, Bad Moon Rising, and EVOL. I saw them on tour just as EVOL came out, and they were amazing, although they were always good when I saw them live. The band I was in at the time had a tendency to sound like we listened to Confusion is Sex way too much (Gabino and Clark can probably attest to that), so that was obviously a huge influence. At this point, any SY album I listen to made after Sister just makes me want to listen to something before sister.

I keep thinking of doing something on those SY records releases. Maybe I'll get to that someday.

rootless said...

I also like Rather Ripped a lot. I never went through a massive Sonic Youth faze but always liked and admired them. My favorite song by them is "Diamond Sea" off Washing Machine.

DC said...

I've got that cassette with the backwards side b! I got it at a garage sale for $.25, that's how i first heard that album. funny. dc OUT!