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.