Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sonic Youth - 'Daydream Nation'

It's a lot more listenable than Bad Moon Rising or Confusion Is Sex. If their previous two albums, EVOL and Sister can be thought of as a progressive learning process in how to write actual, listenable and even catchy songs while being artsy and postmodern and dissonant, this is the final exam. Part of the trick is that they make sure they play a nice, jangly, even jaunty chord progression with energetic drumming backing it up for a reasonable period of time before dedicating the middle section of most songs to jamming egg cutlets under their strings, or whatever it is that Moore and Ranaldo do to their guitars to make those odd noises. Or they turn in a pretty arpeggiated section with neat spacey tones and layers after beating their humbuckers with chopsticks. Either way, there's always something in there on each song that rewards you for listening to the noise sections. It's pretty much the pattern for all future mainline Sonic Youth releases, right up until the present day, and it's a good way to go about putting together an album. It takes avant garde post-rock, punk and noise roots and welds them together into something that's actually huge and gorgeous and even exultant at its best, rather than simply odd and risky for epileptics.

All in all, it's amazing how little the band has changed since this album - it has pretty much the same mix of pretty, sublime, pretty sublime and plain annoying moments as nearly every album since (your mileage will vary). I'd submit that, since the late 80s the Sonics have been in as much of a holding pattern as, say, post-1916 Motorhead, but who will listen to me? On the one hand, hipsters will shoot me down because I am a metalhead, on the other hand metalheads will ignore me because everyone else who rates this album disses metal and being able to play guitar solos. Oh dear.

To sum up, a good blend of the elitist and the populist strands of Sonic Youth's sound. An immediate, persuasive album that sums up a whole vein of 80s alternative rock but sounds fresh and timeless at the same time. And a great soundtrack for a cyberpunk movie they'll never make.


Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

It's good to see this album crop up! Those first two albums are just plain noise, and I think there's a whole subculture of experimental artists out there dedicated strictly to those albums, but this one's a gem. I saw Sonic Youth headline the '95 Lollapalooza, and though most of the dumb kids left after Hole, they missed a real spectacle. Only Priest and Sonic Youth left me with my mouth hanging open during their performance. Astonishing.

bob_vinyl said...

While I really like Bad Moon Rising, I can see that it's more a personal preference than an objective opinion. Daydream Nation really is probably their best album. I like your point about the holding pattern, because I think there's truth to that. It's not that everything since has been bad so much as it's been insignificant compared to Daydream Nation and Sister (and I'd argue Evol and Bad Moon Rising). Sonic Youth was an influence on a lot of 90s rock, but I sometimes think that's overstated, because even here, on their best record, they were fairly inaccessible. I had a hard time appreciating Sonic Youth until I saw them (I saw them with Ray, actually). That was the best show I'd seen until Mars Volta in 2005. they were a strange mix of being surreal and down-to-earth, just as their music was a strange mix of structure and noise.