photo & text by nacrowe
what i always appreciate about the EVOL (SST, 1986) record by SONIC YOUTH is how their NO WAVE-inspired DISSONANCE is seemingly channeled inward creating an INTERIOR emotionally-charged AURAL LANDSCAPE. when i first heard the record in my late teens it felt like the soundtrack to all of the INTERNAL CONFUSION, DOUBT and INSECURITY i was experiencing at a key transitional period of my life. for me its that profound sense of INTERIORITY that marks this record.
some would argue that SONIC YOUTH during this period was a bit MEANDERING and MELODICALLY INCONSISTENT on key tracks like "SHADOW OF A DOUBT," "TOM VIOLENCE," "EXPRESSWAY TO YR SKULL" and "GREEN LIGHT," but for me this hesitancy to fully commit to TUNEFUL, RECOGNIZABLE SONG STRUCTURES is what makes it such an IMMEDIATE, ENGAGING listen. its almost as if the band through IMPROVISATION is exploring and mining an EMOTION in real-time. much as the work of artist RICHARD KERN, whose work is used for the EVOL cover art, blurs the line between PORNOGRAPHY and ART, VULGARITY and AESTHETIC REFINEMENT, even EXPLOITATION and AGENCY; such is the same with SONIC YOUTH and their COMPLICITY on allowing the audience to view them in a moment of VULNERABILITY.
i can recall listening "SHADOW OF A DOUBT" in SACRAMENTO my senior year of high school a few months after leaving my family abroad in the MIDDLE EAST and living with a relative to close my high school career. at the time i felt SOCIALLY ISOLATED and CULTURALLY DISTANT from my new classmates and community. that song in particular made all the big questions surrounding LOVE, DEATH, SEX, ART, PAIN and FATE seem like the same thing. if this is it then life is not worth it. makes total sense that DARK WAVE band BLACK TAPE FOR A BLUE GIRL covered that song in the early 2000s with a similar interpretation in mind.
SONIC YOUTH and their strong embrace of DISSONANCE and ATONALITY is a tough sell for listeners used to MELODIC COHESION and TRADITIONAL SONG STRUCTURES. but such difficult creative constraints and artistic risks are what i appreciate about the band, plus the music mirrors how i experience life in general. such being CHAOTIC, RUDDERLESS with no clear purpose. EVOL is pure expression of that NIHILISTIC SENTIMENT and is a cultural and artistic touchstone for me in general when life is moving in that direction. other subsequent records proved to be more MELODIC, COHESIVE and expertly constructed, but EVOL to me is very much about a vibe and state of mind, an INTERIOR SPACE that EMOTIONALLY envelopes to the point of SUFFOCATION. required listening in my opinion.
photo & text by nacrowe
much like their contemporaries DINOSAUR JR, PIXIES, THE REPLACEMENTS, R.E.M. and THE SMITHS in the 1980s INDIE ROCK scene, SONIC YOUTH is a seminal band whose expansive sound essentially exploded the sonic palette and listener expectations of what was acceptable and possible within a band context. arguably DAYDREAM NATION (ENIGMA, 1988) is their finest achievement and a proof of concept for their tunefully crafted WHITE NOISE.
to understand their musical point of view, you have to look back at the NO WAVE scene that happened just after the peak of the downtown NYC PUNK ROCK scene that birthed the likes of THE RAMONES, PATTI SMITH, TELEVISION, BLONDIE, DEAD BOYS and TALKING HEADS among many others. the NO WAVE consisted of experimental musicians who took the cue from the PUNK scene and took the sonic avant-garde tendencies much much further (incorporated EXTREME DISSONANCE and angular, jagged sonic JUXTAPOSITIONS with nontraditional song structures) and in many ways pointed the way towards modern-day EXPERIMENTAL music (POST ROCK, AMBIENT, etc). bands from the brief NO WAVE scene include the likes of SUICIDE, TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS, DNA, SWANS, THEORETICAL GIRLS, DINOSAUR L and MARS among others.
essentially SONIC YOUTH took that sonic EXPERIMENTALISM and love of unyielding DISSONANT TEXTURES and placed them almost oxymoronically within a traditional pop context with recognizable song structures. it is a formula that initiates the listener into accepting a new SONIC VOCABULARY while contextualizing such within a framework they can recognize. arguably the best examples of such on DAYDREAM NATION include the two singles "TEENAGE RIOT" and "SILVER ROCKET," both displaying a hazy, YOUTHFUL ENERGY amidst a fog of dueling distorted guitars courtesy of THURSTON MOORE and LEE RANALDO.
vocally bassist KIM GORDON and MOORE present an odd coupling, but it absolutely works. MOORE has a juvenile delivery that sounds both NAIVE and forward-looking as he bellows over an uneasy bed of undulating and interweaving guitar textures whereas GORDON comes off as the epitome of COOL DISAFFECTION. she never sounds as if she is anything but in total control. its an interesting role reversal of cultural constructed NORMATIVE VALUES associated with gender, especially within a rock setting. i am convinced that GORDON is the reason SONIC YOUTH became so influential, because as off-the-rails the sonic experimentation got (especially on earlier records), her voice and AUTHORITATIVE PRESENCE grounded the experience. its a real statement when you consider the blatant CHAUVINISM of the cultural scene during this period (including INDIE ROCK) and it makes it all the more crushing that MOORE outed himself years later as just another selfish creep.
DAYDREAM NATION is required listening. definitely worth checking out especially if you have any interest in INDIE ROCK and ALTERNATIVE ROCK or the preceding PUNK ROCK, POST PUNK and NO WAVE scenes that helped spawn it.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
i discovered the SHOW US YOUR JUNK! series on the EARTHQUAKER DEVICES youtube channel a few months back and what it does a great job of presenting is the gear used by musicians and producers in their studio setups.
obviously EARTHQUAKER DEVICES is a company and yes, their pedals are mentioned along with those of their "competitors," but what you learn very quickly is that the equipment on display is merely a canvas and that these producers, many of them prominent musicians from bands like SONIC YOUTH, DEVO, CONVERGE and DEERHOOF are the artists that contextualize these sonic textures in tapestry unique to their sound and aesthetic. if anything, the pedals here are useful in that they help bridge the gap between conception and execution. they are essentially a tool. but i have to say, there is equal if not vastly more time dedicated to non-EARTHQUAKER items in this series. just saying.
much like RIG RUNDOWN goes after the gear setup of a touring musician, SHOW US YOUR JUNK! is dedicated to the recording setup, which in my opinion is far more interesting having spent time around my cousin who is a recording engineer in our former studio at the KREISCHER MANSION. everyone has their own technique and philosophy regarding what makes a compelling sound, which is a topic of endless fascination for me. how does the producer engage with the artist and bring about their creativity. what microphones, preamps, boards do they tend to use? what is the room ambience like at their studio?
for me this series is a great introduction to what makes each of these producers tick, which only makes me dive back into their production discographies that much harder. maybe even make a radio show or two about them (cough, cough, KURT BALLOU and STEVE ALBINI, cough, shameless plug).
by all means check them out below or watch the rest HERE.