Jukeboxparables

Review: Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

Posted in Music, Review by jukeboxparables on December 1, 2009

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Ever since I decided I’d start reviewing music on this blog, Daydream Nation was in the back of my mind. Why? Simply because the mere prospect of trying to put this album into words is a salivating challenge. I’ve long thought that words are inadequate to describe music, which seems like an obvious thing to say. But not many albums out there truly convey the shortcomings of literary prose more;so than Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation.

What is Indie?, What is New-wave?, What is No-wave? And what about that much used Umbrella term to seemingly describe everything since the 1980’s –Alternative? Most people you speak to would attribute different meanings (or at least bands) to those categories, some of which you and I would vehemently disagree with. You don’t really have to have a debate with them about it because It’s all summed up by one band on one album.

In 1988, Sonic Youth released their fifth studio album; Daydream Nation. In retrospect it’s been given shiny reviews and has a long list of accolades appearing on many ‘must have’ and ‘best of’ lists over the decades. The album was not an immediate success however as their label at the time went bust and the album was out of print for some time.

What’s going to make describing this album well so darn hard is that I feel an almost nostalgic need to delve into the history of the band, the ‘scene’ and happenings surrounding the band not only in 1988 but from their inception, if anything to highlight their growth from their self titled debut EP in 1982. But I’m going to put the burden on me; I’ll try and review it without going into all that.

But what I will delve into briefly is references; Daydream Nation connects together various themes from an expansive artistic world (the band’s various influences) weaving them into a complex magic-eye decorated woolen sweater. When you let your ears blur ever so slightly; things begin to jump out at you.

“Teenage Riot” is the opening track, it was also the bands first single off the album. It’s allegedly about an alternate dream-world where the lead singer of Dinosaur Jr; J Mascis is President. It goes on to give a nod to The Stooges track “We will fall”. It kicks off with this slow, clean slightly haunting yet completely disarming guitar riff with lyrics being delivered by bassist Kim Gordon in a spoken word stream of consciousness style. And then suddenly it picks up as if a strong gust of wind has filled the sails and the boat is on it’s way.

Everybodys talking bout the stormy weather, And whats a man to do but work out whether its true?
Looking for a man with a focus and a temper, Who can open up a map and see between one and two

Third track “The Sprawl” has particular influence alluding to influential author William Gibson’s SCI-FI Trilogy (the trilogy features famed book Necromancer) Amongst other things Gibson wrote the short-story Johnny Mnemonic (later adapted to film) The 3rd book from the trilogy ‘Sprawl’ is titled ‘Cyberspace’ Gibson coined the term and the resounding theme is one of a world in the near future where dark corporations rule and technology via AI becomes something sinister.

By the time you reach fourth track “‘Cross The Breeze” you start to feel a shift in your mood, your overcome by this kind of up-beat numbness; It’s a combination of the previous tracks working on your psyche and the intro guitar picking of this one. It’s an urgency to do something profound, but alas your caught in a siren song of sorts. It’s all akin to something like being in a mosh pit, staggeringly drunk, falling over and just not bothering to get up again, watching yourself get trampled in slow motion; you’ve ceased to care. The Intro’s repeated heavy 8-chord attenuation coming like blows to the head. Then it all ‘seems’ to clear up and all you hear is Kim Gordon incessantly repeating “I Wanna know…” That memorable 8-chord repeating thud comes back towards the end and leads into a sweet clean outro only outdone by track “The Sprawl” before it which can’t be described without going into passe’ metaphors about use of illicit substances. It’s really …that good.

Track five “Eric’s trip” is a nice break from the previous two songs (all 15minutes of them.. almost) in that its short and to the point, leaving your head time to recover; the ending line being one of note. It’s hooks are out-done by the following track however. The 7minute:33sec “Total Trash” Sonic Youth don’t let up for long. This isn’t a pop album, use your head. Concentrate.

If anything though. By the time you’ve reached the end of the eighth track “Providence” you either begin to see the ultimate brilliance of this album or you’ve been lost in it all and you see its downfall, more on that later. On the track in question, Mike Watt; Iconic bassist of the mid 1980’s band Minutemen (amongst various other projects) is heard calling Thurston Moore and leaving a late night phone Message. This message is blended into the track’s eerie echo piano intro and layered with what is apparently the impromptu recording of one of the bands amps in melt down amongst what sounds like recorded wind distortion/interference. The amp’s valves have given all they can and will never make music again. It’s actually my favourite track on the album.

[Mike Watt]
“Thurston! Watt! Thurston! I think it’s ten thirty, we’re calling
From Providence, Rhode Island. Did you find your shit? You gotta
Watch the motin’ Thurston, your fuckin’ memory just goes out tha window.
We couldn’t find it in the van at all, we wonderin’ if you looked in
That trash can. When we threw out that trash, man, was the bag in
Your hand, did you dump it? Call later. Bye.”

I did say the intro piano sounded eerie but that’s not quite right. The track captures a desperate sort of sentimentality. It’s at this point you realise your listening to the avant-garde. And now to that downfall I was mentioning earlier. It’s more of a paradox than anything else. Daydream Nation, or any other brilliant album that pushes the boundaries in such a way can never really be given a 10/10. It’s completely inaccessible to the average-joe music listener. The musician in me say’s who gives a damn, such people don’t deserve to listen to this because they won’t appreciate it. I think Art should be hung on a wall for all to see sure, but the question remains can a piece of art with references and themes so deep really be as appreciated and engaging as say; the traditional pretty picture? It all depends on the listener of course.

Rating: 9.2/10

Tracklist:

1. “Teen Age Riot” – 6:59
2. “Silver Rocket” – 3:48
3. “The Sprawl” – 7:42
4. “Cross The Breeze” – 7:01
5. “Eric’s Trip” – 3:49
6. “Total Trash” – 7:33
7. “Hey Joni” – 4:24
8. “Providence” – 2:42
9. “Candle” – 4:59
10. “Rain King” – 4:39
11. “Kissability” – 3:09
12. “Trilogy (The Wonder – Hyperstation – Eliminator Jr.)” – 14:04

Sonic Youth
Daydream Nation
Released: 1988
Label: Enigma

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