Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sonic Youth - Sister (1987)

| Alternative Rock | Noise Rock | Experimental Rock |
| Indie Rock | Post-Punk |

Sonic Youth were one of the most unlikely success stories of underground American rock in the '80s. Where contemporaries R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü were fairly conventional in terms of song structure and melody, Sonic Youth began their career by abandoning any pretense of traditional rock & roll conventions. Borrowing heavily from the free-form noise experimentalism of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges, and melding it with a performance art aesthetic borrowed from the New York post-punk avant-garde, Sonic Youth redefined what noise meant within rock & roll. Sonic Youth rarely rocked, though they were inspired directly by hardcore punk, post-punk, and no wave. Instead, their dissonance, feedback, and alternate tunings created a new sonic landscape, one that redefined what rock guitar could do.

Sister is a nihilistic, distorted, noisy record. There's absolutely no doubt about it. The guitars spike through the mix like a rusty knife, creating some cacophony of melodic noise. The overall tone of the album is extremely warm, due to the fact that (smart) people still used analog tape in 1987. Right, so you know it's nosiy. It's Sonic Youth, for God's sake. Mixed in with all this "damn noise!" are heavy doses of liquid, chorused, melody. Songs like "Schizophrenia" and "Beauty Lies in the Eye" are eerie, beautiful pieces of music. Both songs are enveloped in waves of melody and harmony, and show the ideal that 'noise' can be coupled with melody to form something magnificent. Other songs, like "Tuff Gnarl," the industrial-esque "Pacific Coast Highway," or the slow, droning "Cotton Crown" are schizophrenic in their approach. The songs teater back and forth, eventually falling off into a pit of noise, or melody. On "Tuff Gnarl" especially, Sonic Youth provides one of their most hair-raising songs, with melodic bass and guitar lines, covered over in a blanket of fuzz. "Master-Dik" provides a somewhat 'different' ending to the album. The song features Thurston 'rapping', with spiralling, chaotic noise. Kiss samples are repeated over and over, and add a sort of, cynical, feel, I guess you could say. Think The Smiths anti-ending "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others," done Sonic Youth-style. And a lot funnier.

So, like, gag me with a spoon! Sister is up there as one of the best Sonic Youth albums. The record itself feels very dark, and you can easily feel it brooding, constantly. I guess you could say that Sonic Youth let it all out on Daydream Nation, and that Sister was just the volcano's base stretching. All of the songs here are class, and I can't find anything wrong with them. They represent what Sonic Youth do best, that being artfully, and cleverly combining noise and the 'avant-garde' and somewhat-conventional song structures and melodies. "There's something in the air, that makes you go insane", Kim Gordon sings, and that's what Sister is, well.. kind of.

Album Overview on SputnikMusic

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