Category: Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth – Sister

ARTIST: Sonic Youth                        220px-Sonic_youth_sister

TITLE: Sister




OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Schizophrenia, (I Got A) Catholic Block

LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Where Sonic Youth’s promise intersects with its reality.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Finally, an album that fulfilled Sonic Youth’s vision and promise. While Evol was a great leap forward, Sister is the culmination of their SST career and put them at the precipice of greatness.

The trend towards recognizable song-structures is there, and they utilize structures to make an impact in lyrics and sound. Still, they allow Kim Gordon to recite powerful feminism over what sounds like free-form noise (but definitely isn’t). The drumming by Steve Shelley is propulsive and evocative (and really drives songs like “Stereo Sanctity”).

The band was able to construct haunting songs (“Schizophrenia”), first person observations (“Tuff Gnarl” and a combo of creepy first person songs (“Pacific Coast Hightway”). It peters out a bit at the end (after a cover of a song by Crime) but really, the cover is probably the cause of the letdown. Had they re-sequenced it and ended with the cover, it would have been nearly perfect.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first versions, in the UK, had the final two cuts spelled “Kotton Krown” and “White Kross”, while later versions had it as “Cotton Crown” and “White Cross”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The CD version appends “Master=Dik”, the first appearance of the Ciccone Youth sound.

 GRADE A: Of course not for everyone (it IS Sonic Youth), but this is one of their must-haves. A great mix of rock song structures and avant-garde tuning and sounds.

Sonic Youth – Evol

ARTIST: Sonic Youth                                Evol




SINGLES: Starpower


LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Leaping to SST, new drummer in two, Sonic Youth moves past noise for noise’s sake into sculpting songs out of their chaos.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Steve Shelley, former Crucifucks’ drummer, joined Sonic Youth in time to record this album, and his presence and steadiness helped fuel a transformation in the band. No longer were they content to make noise and horrific soundscapes – Sonic Youth was going to reach you through songs that utilized their noise, not fight against it.

Though this started a bit with “Death Valley ‘69”, it really hit home with songs such as “Tom Violence”, “Starpower” and “Madonna, Sean & Me” (also called “Expressway to Yr Skull” or “The Crucifixion of Sean Penn”). The chaos is there, but there’s melody there, and recognizable song forms.

Sure, they don’t give up the noise (side two still has a couple of cuts that the melody is still a mystery), but this is a big leap forward for a band who wanted to reach more people than the 50 no-wave folks in NYC.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Mike Watt played bass on “In the Kingdom #19”, a Lee Ranaldo story-song about a car accident.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The CD had a B-side, their cover of a Kim Fowley tune.

GRADE: A-: This is the beginning of Sonic Youth’s journey into the pop-culture landscape.

Sonic Youth – Bad Moon Rising

ARTIST: Sonic Youth 220px-SonicYouthBadMoonRising
TITLE: Bad Moon Rising
SINGLES: Death Valley ‘69
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not as such unless you listened to extreme college radio in the 80’s
LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Bob Burt. Lydia Lunch howls on the single.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sonic Youth turns the corner, slightly, and begins their ‘many guitars / odd tunings’ phase and begins to write more actual songs instead of just noisy noise. It’s a dark record, too.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you weren’t a Republican or a Reagan Democrat in 1985, you were in a dark mood about the country. This album attempts to capture that feeling of impending doom. The songs all are bleak (sample titles – “Society Is a Hole”, “I’m Insane”, “Justice Is Might”) and run together, thanks to the transitional pieces used by the band that were first used during shows as the music played during tunings.

This ain’t a happy record. But, it’s the first Sonic Youth record where most of the songs are actual songs and not excuses to show off their weird tunings and feedback. Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore focus on sounds this time, and not atonal noise. Still some of the songs can try the patience of listeners since they meander on, exploring sound as they go.

The highlight is the concluding track, “Death Valley ‘69”. Written by Moore and Lydia Lunch, this was an exploration of the Manson Family. Such a happy subject.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Those transitional pieces were useful in concert. It took sometimes five minutes to get the guitars tuned properly. Later, the band just toured with several guitars tuned differently.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: All of the CD versions have bonus songs released as singles and B-sides after this record.

GRADE: B-: There’s still some stuff that’s hard to tolerate, but they’re getting better and “Death Valley ‘69” is a pretty hot track.



Sonic Youth – Confusion Is Sex

ARTIST: Sonic Youth  Confusion_is_Sex_cover
TITLE: Confusion Is Sex
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I think maybe 38 people bought this in 1983, maybe 39.
LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Jim Sclavunos – then Bob Bert
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: NYC no-wave survivors record loud and messy album that is more miss than hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: When you have no money, and you want to record, you do what you can. This album was recorded in the basement of a building that producer Wharton Tiers was managing, and you can hear the claustrophobia and isolation in the recordings. KillYrIdols

What you also hear is a band that seems to make a holy racket to the exclusion of songs. The recording is a bit rough too (of course if you record in a basement of an apartment building in 1983 you probably won’t have state of the art stuff).

There are glimpses of hope here – “(She’s In A) Bad Mood” and “The World Looks Red” are decent enough. But the other tracks are hot messes.

Appended to this is the German EP Kill Yr. Idols, which is a little better than the main album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Moore and Ranaldo doctored their guitars by sticking screwdrivers in between the frets and strings.


GRADE: C-: I exiled a bunch of this. It’s just not that great.


Sonic Youth – Sonic Youth

ARTIST: Sonic Youth 220px-SonicYouthEP
TITLE: Sonic Youth
LINEUP: Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Richard Edson
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A couple of Glenn Branca proteges start a band and record an EP. It’s a bit odd but sounds almost normal – compared to what they would do next.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You may be a bit surprised at the sound, tuning and style of the first Sonic Youth EP. Except for Ranaldo using a power drill during “The Burning Spear”, nothing sounds too out of tune, or really noisy or odd.

In fact, one would say it’s rather generic sounding. Sure, it’s avant garde – the tunes are twisted up a bit and the chord progressions aren’t normal. But compared to later works – this is Sonic Youth as straight and narrow as they get. Nothing really spectacular either except for “The Burning Spear”.

Glenn Branca, for those unfamiliar, is a composer who builds his works around the guitar, using high volume, harmonics and alternate tunings. He normally has several guitars going at once, and Moore and Ranaldo both played for him.

That influence would come later – it’s not here.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Richard Edson later found fame as an actor. You may recognize him in Good Morning Vietnam and Eight Men Out.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with live cuts and an demo.

GRADE: C: I’m going to keep this – but really – your Sonic Youth collection should start elsewhere.