1987 – SST
The fourth studio album from New York noise rockers Sonic Youth is a brilliant piece of work. The guitar driven noise and disaffected vocals are perfectly orchestrated to create a tasty array of music, and its minimally produced rawness is a welcome relief to the usual barrage of slick studio music that usually comes out.
The opening track, Schizophrenia, is a great introduction to what the album is all about – jangly guitar melodies, white noise, and lyrics laced with acidic boredom. Unfortunately the slowness of this track is also indicative of the rest of the record. It does tend to drag at times, even Catholic Block, which is really a punk song, doesn’t have the energy that it deserves. Some might argue that that’s what the band was going for, but for me the understatement of rage even in the faster tracks was a bit disappointing. Their cover of Crime’s Hotwire My Heart does pick up a little and sounds almost like a more energetic Television song. However, the vocals are still a little bit flat.
This lack of energy is, however, quite a small issue with an otherwise excellent album. Most of the songs aren’t meant to be thrashing punk tracks, but rather slow voyages through the streets of eighties urban decay. This, I think, it does incredibly well. One can almost hear the culturally barren echo of the American music industry in the fuzzy guitar lines.
The experimentation with feedback and white noise is also incredibly well done. The almost excessive ambient noise provides a rich texture to all of the tracks and the band have mastered their use of these accidental sounds to the extent that they never detract from the amazingly well composed music. Sister, I think, is also a triumph for Sonic Youth in that it’s the first record on which they managed to rein in their chaotic experimental natures just enough to create a vivid example what the group can do in terms of catchy pop music while still maintaining their antiestablishment roots.
To sum up I would say that Sister is an incredible record. It is innovative, invasive, and raw, but with a well honed pop-rock sensibility and immaculate execution. It takes the listener on a journey through a landscape of the aftermath of rock and roll excess and the dullness of the era’s mainstream music, while still managing to be primitively pop and sneeringly punk. I recommend this album very highly, and I would recommend it even higher as a perfect introduction to the experience that is Sonic Youth.
I realize that as I was speaking before about the record’s tendency towards slowness and unfortunate understatement I forgot to mention that the CD version of the album contains Master-Dik as a bonus track. This song goes against everything I said before and really wrenches out the band’s punk-inspired ethos – definitely worth a listen.
This cover of a Crime song is one of the stand-out tracks from 1987’s Sister