The 1980s was a weird time for music. Whilst the mainstream lapped up bands like Duran Duran, there was an undercurrent movement against a lot of the synth pop music, particularly in the USA. A new alternative had arisen, and Sonic Youth was one clear example of it. This is often seen as their best album, so let’s have a good look at it.
We begin with the six minute piece Teen Age Riot which begins with some clear, Fender style guitars and some murmured lyrics. This is an interesting listen, with guitars that sound unusual, yet really top. “Sweet desire,” is said here. Before long, some crunchy guitars and playing overtake this track. This is very punk rock, without being anything like what punk rock is. This is very reminiscent of Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. It is a decent start to this album, and sounds like indie music a lot. A great listening experience, although the singer is self-consciously bored sounding. Towards the end, some interesting twists and turns occur musically. The guitar solos here are awesome.
Next is Silver Rocket which begins with feedback, before an eerie riff enters. It then goes into a punk rock sounding piece, think the Dead Kennedys and you’re halfway there. It’s an unusual, but a good listen regardless. There are some supersonic sound parts throughout the second half, making this an interesting listen. Very weird and suspenseful. Drum rolls and guitars then enter, as the song finishes the second half.
The Sprawl comes next. It is a seven minute long piece with some female vocals by Kim Gordon, the bassist. It is never too heavy or too laid back, it is just well delivered. There are some very good guitar parts throughout, and the lyrical part is spoken, not sung. A simple, yet effective and good listen, this is a good album so far. Nice to hear a vast array of influences here musically. It gets very frenetic before going into a strange instrumental midsection, with loose guitar parts, which are rather psychedelic. An interesting piece of music. Feedback emerges towards the end of this song as well. Very different.
‘Cross The Breeze has some very dated sound effect based guitar sounds at start, before launching into a very much post-hardcore punk tune. Once again, it’s pretty long, at exactly seven minutes in length. Still, it is an interesting listen despite that with some interesting sounds. Shortly afterwards, singing kicks in that refers lyrically to walking on water. Some of the singing here is a bit much, and this piece isn’t as good as it could be. Still, it’s a good listen, maybe just not a great listening experience. Without warning, it goes from fast to super fast in an instant, an approach later used by grunge bands. It goes into a semi-interlude towards the end, which is different. Some sped up tape trickery is right at the end. Different, all right.
Next is Eric’s Trip which is a strange song, likely about tripping itself. Unusual but interesting, this is decent to hear. Halfway through, it goes into a maniacal guitar solo that is definitely different. Some really amazing sounds are here, and are unlikely to be heard in musical history again.
Following is Total Trash which begins with a load of loud guitars and melodies. The bored singing vocals here are excellent. The guitars aren’t quite psychedelic, just loud, raw and interesting. The guitar work is rather discordant after a while, which is different and not really done before this recording. It goes into a manic groove about halfway through, building up with speed and tempo. This is pretty weird music, that is for sure. Towards the end, a load of feedback and guitar trickery is here. The outro is rather trippy.
Hey Joni begins with some eerie spacey sounds, before launching into a loud rock jam. It is a good song, well performed and delivered. There are some typical Sonic Youth sounds here: bored vocals; loud, discordant guitars and uptempo drumming. Another good effort, but the album seems a little repetitive by this point.
Providence begins with some sad piano and some wind blowing sounds. It’s unusual, and definitely not certain what this is supposed to be about. Some talk is here, playing back some nasty answering machine messages. Towards the end, the wind blowing sounds become intense. Okay, but not necessary.
Next is Candle which begins with a beautiful guitar arpeggio, before launching into a straightforward rock groove. It is a better song that some of what has come before. This is good music, but falls short of being great. There is no sense of something great or magical here, and this song is merely a reflection of that. The wailing guitar solos are awful here. Not really impressive music listening.
Following is Rain King which has an interesting introduction to it. It sounds very energetic and different, ultimately being a rushing and powerful piece. This is more of the same, however, and lacks mainstream appeal as a result. Neither interesting nor memorable, this music has limited appeal. It’s okay, far from great though.
Kissability comes next and has female singing again. There is nothing special here, just some ordinary melodies amongst the singing, which itself is quite good. The discordant guitar parts are here again as usual, but nothing interesting nor amazing is on this record. Largely forgettable.
A) The Wonder comes first out of the final trilogy of songs. It’s a better listen than much before it, and is actually somewhat catchy. This is a good listen regardless, and is a decent piece to hear. Some of the melodies here are pretty good, but there is a lack of musical magic here. The drumming is impressive, as usual, however. Not exciting or listenable otherwise.
B) Hyperstation is a seven minute long piece that actually has a pretty cool intro. It is a good set of melodies, loud and powerful. It sounds rather dark and eerie as well, which is different. It is good, but far from great here. A better effort but still largely boring and forgettable. Trashy and worth avoiding, this is not very impressive. Worth avoiding, if possible. Pretty awful listening, not even as good as The Velvet Underground here. Which is sad really. The harmonics toward the end are interesting though.
Last is Z) Eliminator Jr. which is an avoidable and awful piece. By this point of the album, it is clearly worth avoiding and this is an awful song to finish with. No idea what this is supposed to be about, it just seems like a load of noise. The album finishes after this, thank goodness.
This may be a fan favourite of an album, yet in the long term, this is neither valuable nor good listening. If you dig garage punk, sure, you may like this. But that is the problem with this record, it is so limited in sound and appeal that barely anyone can enjoy this. Avoid, if possible.