Sonic Youth are genius. I have no other words. Genius. They break rules and boundaries, they dictate their own guidelines, and they maintain individuality unrivaled. So, I’m sorry to say, you probably don’t possess the musical intellect or aptitude to get it. However, if you’re absolutely determined to find something new for yourself, and truly believe Sonic Youth is what you’re looking for, here’s a list of their top 5 albums, everything I love and you won’t get. It’s okay. Your opinion does not negate their greatness.
5 Confusion is Sex
It’s not an entirely common thing to see punks experimenting. That’s something for jazz artists and madmen. So what’s up with the screwdrivers and random tuning? This is obviously a band in it for themselves. They are not doing this to sell. Yet it is completely wonderful. So much can be lost on the quest for cash, integrity for one, passion for another. This album never had to concern itself with such woes. It pretty much goes back to what I state in my intro. You probably won’t get it, too imaginative and unusual. “(She’s in A) Bad Mood” and “Protect Me You” are eerie and anticlimactic, while “Shaking Hell” and “Kill Yr. Idols” provide the fervency for the pit. “Confusion is Next” is typical in-your-face-madness. This is raw Sonic Youth in their pure state.
4 The Eternal
The first and only album produced after leaving Geffen, and their highest charting thus far, The Eternal proves there is always room for angst. No one else could do it; cling to youth, to teenage aggression and anxiety, continue screaming, and still be taken seriously. Age defiant now as they were anti-authoritarian then, “Sacred Trickster” reminds us that Kim Gordon is a badass, “Leaky Lifeboat” gives us the guitar work we love from Moore and Reynaldo, and “What We Know” is that Steve Shelley has not been fazed by age.
3 Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
There is no doubt “Bull in the Heather” is one of their biggest hits, and I’d be a fool not to mention that this album surpassed it’s predecessor Dirty in the Billboard 200, still, overall it’s just not as well rounded. Fortunately they do seem to have given up on caring about the charts, and they’ve returned to a more freeform style of writing, maybe that’s what got them up there. “Androgynous Mind” is a great example of implied form, chaotic but intelligible. Then, of course, there is the power of the folksy and well-groomed “Winner’s Blues.”
Their second on DGC Records, and seventh total, this album was supposed to present Sonic Youth to the mainstream world, which it did, just not exactly how the label intended. Although there was a bit of refinement, and a bit less dissonance, they stay true to themselves on every track, raw, intense and in your face. Regardless, the hits are certainly hits, as with Kim’s catchy bass line and Thurston’s ironic lyrics on “Youth Against Fascism,” or the youthful bliss of “100%.” For the more sincere, sentimental side of things, “Wish Fulfillment” delivers a beautiful portrayal of emotions, and for the madness reminiscent of a steel-toed Dr. Martin’s mosh pit “Nic Fit” gives it up in a minute flat.
1 Daydream Nation
I could discuss the fact that this album would be the last Sonic Youth would produce on an independent label, but ultimately it’s not going to matter. You’ll find they maintain integrity and intensity throughout their career. What needs discussed is the balance of dissonance and resolve. Right away, the opening “Teenage Riot” provides the sweetness of Kim Gordon’s voice, the brilliance and coupling of Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo on guitars, Thurston’s unique vocal style, and the vehemence of Steve Shelley on drums. The album only intensifies from here with the exception of some honeyed intros. An example of such a deceptive intro can be found on “’Cross the Breeze” which also displays one of my all time favorite riffs. Dissonance can be so soothing. “Kissability” is pretty straightforward and punky but is immediately followed by the chaotic and culminating “A) the Wonder.”
So there you go. If you’ve got a dynamic palate for music, and are not intimidated by cacophonous orchestrations, this is a great jump-off for Sonic Youth. If you’re already a fan, tell me what you think, but keep it short like the attention span of these other kids.