Reviewed on this page:
Sonic Youth - Confusion is Sex/Kill yr. idols - Bad Moon Rising/1985 - Evol - Made In USA - Sister - Daydream Nation - The Whitey Album - Goo - Dirty - Experimental Jet Set, Trash
And No Star - Washing Machine - Psychic Hearts -
Sentimental Education - Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love - A Thousand Leaves -
NYC Ghosts & Flowers - Murray Street -
Sonic Nurse - Rather Ripped - Trees Outside The Academy - SYR 7: J'Accuse Ted Hughes -
Inherit - The Eternal - Demolished Thoughts -
Chelsea Light Moving
Sonic Youth is without a doubt one of the most eclectic and interesting bands on the face of the planet. Rebels, dissonant and loud punk/hardcore rockers, "No-Wavers," stunningly melodic popsters, experimental avant-garde musicans, nihilists, obscene New Yorkers, philosophers, parents, babysitters for the grunge generation... SY is or has been all these things at one time or another. One thing they are not is an immensely popular band. Despite finally being signed to a major label in 1988, they have yet to produce a bona-fide smash hit but remain a favorite of the underground, although recently they gained a smidgen of fame through their association with such luminaries as Kurt Cobain and big-time gigs headlining Lollapalooza and opening for REM.
The not-so-young-anymore Youth are:
Thurston Moore, guitar and most of the vocals, more or less the band leader.
Kim Gordon, bass, the original "bad grrl" of rock. Her vocals can be soothing one minute and unbearably grating the next. It takes a bit getting used to!
Lee Ranaldo, guitar, thick NY accent, better voice (IMHO) than Thurston's but seems to prefer doing abstract spoken-word pieces set to a background of wild feedback noise.
Steve Shelley, drums, arrived in 1986 to replace Bob Bert, who
replaced Jim Sclavunos, who replaced Bob Bert (!), who replaced Richard
One thing that sets this group apart from others is the nature of their
dueling lead guitar attack. Both Thurston and Lee are accomplished
players (Lee is probably more technically proficient) with interesting
ideas that blend together well, often with two guitar melodies and/or
rhythms weaving in and out of eachother. Of course, they're also famous
for their unusual alternate guitar tunings, extreme volume, generous use
of feedback, and plain silliness like sticking screwdrivers in between
guitar strings or running the sound of a power-drill through a wah-wah
There are many other Sonic review pages on the net. A good place to start is The Unofficial Sonic Youth Home Page , which contains an extensive discography with lyrics. Another source of info, though crassly commercial, is the official Geffen (DGC) Sonic Youth page.
As usual, I've probably overrated everything - I love and hate this ratings business. Send any and all flames directly to me, or feel free to humiliate me on alt.music.sonic-youth.
For those who still read printed material, an excellent biography has been written by Alec Foege, "Confusion is Next: The Sonic Youth Story." It's way above average compared to the existing crop of biographies about bands who aren't dead. (JLM)
Note that the above home page hasn't been updated in years; there's a good discography at Expressway to yr. skull. Also, Alroy and I have each reviewed SY live shows. (DBW)
Sonic Youth (1982)
This finally got deluxe CD release in 2006, with seven live bonus tracks and one outtake which bring the total running time above an hour. The original EP is surprisingly conventional, with little distortion or dissonance:
Most tracks feature an uptight New Wave rhythm section (Richard Edson on drums) underneath vaguely Fripperrific guitar effects ("The Burning Spear"; "The Good And The Bad") - the low-key, calmly deranged vocals are the most disturbing (which is to say, most Sonic Youth-sounding) element ("I Dreamed I Dream"). Overall, the album shoot for hypnotic but generally settles for mind-numbing.
The 1981 live material duplicates only a couple of tunes ("She Is Not Alone"), instead featuring rarities like the instrumental "Destroyer" and Kim's "Cosmopolitan Girl" - as you'd expect from a concert, the set is louder, looser and more fun ("Loud And Soft," which foreshadows their preoccupation with drones and ringing, repeated single notes).
EP, hard to find on CD but exists... I don't have it yet. Rumor has it that Geffen will reissue in 1996. Here's something funny: "Notes: On the cassette version only, side one is all five of the songs and side two is the same but recorded backwards." (info from the Unofficial SY page). (JLM)
Sonic Death (rec. 1981-3, rel. 1990)
One long track, I believe that it's edited together from separate live performances.
Confusion is Sex/Kill yr. idols (1983)
- This is a great semi-intellectual, chaotic, punk-ish record with dark nihilistic overtones. The lo-fi sound quality either adds or detracts from the experience, depending on your attitude... but no matter what, there is some interesting guitar noise to be heard. Kim and Thurston's "vocal" performances are riveting in a style quite different from later work... don't look for any of their "pretty" songs here. The lyrics are uniformly disturbing, ranging from raging ("Inhuman") to ridiculous (parts of "confusion is next") to philosophical ("Confusion is Next," "making the nature scene"). The CD contains four extra songs (the Kill Yr. Idols EP), including a particularly frightening live version of Kim's shocker, "shaking hell." Crank this baby up, and try your best not to get blown away by the surprise transition between "freezer burn" and "I wanna be your dog." Yow! (JLM)
- I don't have the EP, but the original LP doesn't do much for me:
it's so sloppy and diffuse you can't get anything out of a casual listen
("Lee Is Free"), but there's not enough going on to reward close
scrutiny ("Freezer Burn"). The exceptions are the fine sludge rockers
"Inhuman" and "Confusion Is Next," and the live version of The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is notable as
one of the only covers to make it onto an actual SY record. (DBW)
Bad Moon Rising/1985 (1985)
I just can't seem to get much into this one. The "gothic horror" theme
is cool but carried out to much better effect on "EVOL" and on the
previous LP. Bad Moon starts out on a promising note with a hooky
instrumental segueing into Kim's energetic, ironic, "Brave Men Run."
From there things get muddled and go downhill rapidly, with occasionally
interesting nihilistic ("society is a hole") lyrics and guitar noise
interspersed between spacy or distracting musical passages. By the time
you get to the album's centerpiece/ single, "Death Valley '69," don't be
surprised if you fell asleep.
Fortunately you will get woken up by this fast-paced song, written as a
paean to Charles Manson, with scary vocalist Lydia Lunch trading lyrics
and screaming with Thurston. The CD contains four bonus tracks from
1985, two of which are disturbing and interesting Kim songs: "flower" is
an in-your-face feminist rant ("support the power of women/use the power
of man/support the flower of woman/use the word FUCK"), while
"halloween"is a creepy song in which Kim does an amazingly chilling and
convincing job of sounding like she is strung out. (JLM)
Smart Bar Chicago 1985 (rec. 1985, rel. 2012)
First of an expected avalanche of vault-raiding exercises by the newly defunct band. A live set consisting mostly of Bad Moon tunes.
Violence, murder, a car crash... and Madonna? Well, that's what you get when you spell "Love" backwards. Hah hah. The
dark mood persists on this record, but the approach is somewhat different as some of the gothic themes are covered in
more goofy fashion, and with more of a nod towards conventional pop song structure (some of it is even catchy!).
Especially ridiculous and funny is Lee's story about a highway accident, "In the kingdom #19," with real live
firecracker sound effects supposedly courtesy of a Thurston practical joke. There's some classic stuff here, like the
signature sonik song "Expressway to yr. skull" and Kim's strangely haunting "Shadow of a doubt." It's not the most
consistent album, but even the mediocre songs are catchy enough to make this a much more solid effort than Bad Moon.
Made In USA (rec. 1986, rel. 1995)
As this disc's liner notes describe, the band jumped at the chance to make some quick bucks recording the soundtrack to a Hollywood film. But almost all the music got cut from the film, and apparently the soundtrack album wasn't released until the Sonics remixed it in 1994 and handed it to Rhino. It's mostly incidental instrumental music, with 23 short tracks, and doesn't build up a lot of momentum. There are a few eerie rumbling soundings ("Thought Bubbles") and spacey Kim voice-overs ("Secret Girl" with a prominent keyboard part), but it's too disjointed to be really entertaining.
Only for die-hard fans. (DBW)
- On this venture the band really gets its act together, sounding like
(gasp!) a tight rock unit. Even the weird guitar effects sound less
muddled than usual. The fast-paced songs are obviously more carefully
and complexly arranged than on previous efforts. The lyrical topics are
a bit more varied, delving into "cyberpunk" themes as well as mental
disorders, making fun of Thurston's Catholic upbringing, and a nod to
the gothic horror past on Kim's song about a hitchhiker getting picked
up by a serial killer ("pacific coast highway"). The majestic, abstract
and even pretty song "cotton crown" is included, as well as another
haunting Kim song, "Beauty lies in the eye." Furthermore, the CD
contains a bonus track, "master dik." This last thing is a bizarre
experiment with tape loops, white boy rap-posturing, obscenities, overt
references to Madonna and more subtle
references to Kiss, and sizzling heavy
metal guitar overdubs and noise. Fun! (JLM)
- Shelley's solid, flexible drumming keeps the band from getting too abstract and intellectual, and this disc
is enjoyable the whole way through. There are plenty of powerful rockers - "White Cross," "(I Got A) Catholic Block)" -
the guitar noises are weird ("Pacific Coast Highway"), and they even pull off a punk cover (Johnny Strike's "Hot Wire
My Heart). More consistent than the next album, their breakthrough. (DBW)
Daydream Nation (1988)
- This double album is widely regarded as their breakthrough achievement, and with good reason. The band rips right from the beginning with the single "Teenage Riot," and the rollicking good time rarely lets up after that. Moreover, the LP is remarkably coherent; they even manage to pull off a 14-minute three song medley which could have been ridiculously pretentious but ends up flowing well, ending the album on a high note with the killer hyped-up "eliminator jr," the band's one-up tribute to ZZ Top. Go out right now and buy this - almost every track is brilliant. The only possible throw-away is "Providence," a silly piano and tape-loop song often compared to the Beatles' "Number Nine." Anyway it's pretty funny the first time you hear it. The band at their pre-DGC peak. (JLM)
- This is worth picking up just for the jolting Kissability
Trilogy and "Total Trash." There are some other fun tracks ("Silver
Rocket") but often it drags, with too many low-energy Thurston numbers
("Candle," "Providence"), and the lo-fi approach results in a lot of
songs that sound the same ("Eric's Trip"). Not their best work,
though it is their most characteristic. (DBW)
The Whitey Album (Ciccone Youth: 1988)
I haven't scored it yet. Not a take on the Beatles album, although reportedly the band was keen to do such a thing at one point. As I understand it, it's basically a collaborative effort with Mike Watt (under the name "Ciccone Youth") to pay tribute to Madonna and top-40 pop music in a distinctly lo-fi kind of way. Contains the infamous Sonik cover of the mega dance-hit "Into the Groove." Strike a pose! (JLM)
- I bought this because I'd heard the relentless, moody instrumental "Macbeth," which uses minimal guitar and percussion for a hypnotic effect. The rest of the record, though, sounds like it was cut over one uninspired long weekend. The "Into The Groove" cover is amusing the first time you hear it; their version of Robert Palmer's "Addicted To Love" is better than the original, of course, but still pretty unlistenable. Mike Watt only appears on one track, his demo version of Madonna's "Burnin' Up." Much of the album is either conversation snippets, or samples of other pop and hip hop tunes, and is only of interest to SY devotees. (DBW)
- The band hits the bigtime with mixed results. The professional production job makes the music seem somewhat bland - almost like they followed their own sonik formula without putting a lot of heart into the music. Reportedly, the Goo demos (available on bootleg) are a much better representation of the music the band wanted to record - somewhat analogous to the Beatles' Get Back sessions. There are no really new, way-out guitar sounds here, very uncharacteristic for the band.
On the other hand, by any other group's standards this would be a pretty solid grunge record. Highlights include the opening teenage-riot style ripper "Dirty boots," chuck D's guest panelist appearance with Kim on "Kool Thing," an ode to famous anorexic Karen Carpenter ("Tunic"), and Lee's own ripping rock song "Mote." The lowpoint of the album is definitely "My friend Goo." You may find yourself humming along to this silly song (I always do) but after it's over you may want to smack yourself for it (ouch!). (JLM)
- Jed's right; it's a solid but routine effort, in the same mold as
the followup Dirty but without as much of an edge. Also, there
are some silly pure noise tracks ("Mildred Pierce," "Scooter + Jinx").
But most fans of the band should get a lot out of powerful rockers like
Kim's "Tunic" and "Kool Thing." (DBW)
- A brilliant pop-grunge effort, as close to commercially oriented as Sonic Youth will likely ever get. A lot of "true" SY fans probably hate it for that reason, and one suspects that the band was not entirely happy either with the slicked-up production job courtesy of Butch Vig, producer of Nirvana's big album, "Nevermind." The songs are split about half and half between outrageous Kim screamers and crafty Thurston rockers, with Lee contributing perhaps the best track of all, the spine-tingling "Wish Fulfillment". The band explores truly political topics for the first time (with the exception of "Kool Thing" on Goo), with songs such as "youth against fascism" and "swimsuit issue" (Kim's brutal piece about both the objectification of women and sexual harassment in the workplace), and the hilarious exhortation for "Jesse Helms to come into the pit" on "Chapel Hill." Trade in your Pearl Jam albums if you must to get this unrecognized classic album of "grunge" music. It's a must-have! (JLM)
- I know I'm supposed to prefer Daydream Nation because it
was an indie release, but this is much sharper and more biting:
they use wall-of-noise to better effect than I've ever heard ("Swimsuit
Issue"), blast out raucous riff tunes ("100%," "Sugar Kane") and even
play melodies once in a while. They continuously experiment with song
structure, and almost always have some weird sound happening somewhere;
they're like an art-rock band with technical skill, without pretension.
Even when they're mostly just recycling their own sound (like "Orange
Rolls, Angel's Spit") the result is never less than interesting.
Thurston's vocals don't move me that much, but Gordon is a national
treasure - she makes Courtney Love sound like a spoiled third grader.
Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star (1994)
- Probably deserves a better rating but compared to "Dirty" it is an immense disappointment. The disc seems disjointed with a lot of short songs. The single, an amusing heavy-breather by Kim called "bull in the heather," enjoyed brief radio success. The other Kim songs don't do a whole lot for me, but some of the weird Thurston rocker songs are fun or interesting, like "Screaming Skull" (apparently a jibe at the SST superstore in LA), "self-obsessed and sexxee," and "Tokyo Eye." The band definitely achieves some interesting special effects on this album that have historical interest for guitarist-types if nothing else. (JLM)
- It's the quietest SY record I've heard so far (it opens with an
acoustic guitar-and-vocal track, of all things) but it's consistently
moody, entertaining and weird. For me, their vastly improved control
over their instruments and equipment give them a much broader range of
emotional effect than on their earlier rumbling, eerie productions.
Washing Machine (1995)
- This is a nice departure from the previous two records,
something like a return to "daydream nation" mode. The centerpiece is
the "In A Gadda Da Vida"-length opus "The Diamond Sea," which holds the
distinction of being the only 20-minute song I have ever wanted to
listen to more than once. The track starts out as one of Thurston's
strongest compositions to date, a pretty tune with interesting lyrics.
It then deconvolves into a hypnotic, simmering dual guitar semi-jam,
surfaces briefly again to the theme and lyric, and dives into a pretty
Pink Floyd-esque "sea" again before ending with a hair-raising
feedback-fest that sounds a bit like burning guitars a la Jimi at Monterey. Other highlights include the
opening Kim track "Becuz," Thurston's creepy screamer "No Queen Blues,"
and the 9-minute title track, which sounds like a tribute to the Velvet Underground with its song/story structure
and velvety guitar licks. Kim Deal of (ex?) Breeders fame lends a
wonderfully campy vocal on the psuedo girl-group tune "Little Trouble
Girl," providing an interesting contrast to Kim's grittiness. And then
there's a goofy poetry piece by Lee ("Skip Tracer") and the disturbing
Kim rant "panty lies," just so you know it's a real sonik album. All in
all, one of the most consistent sonik discs to date (JLM)
- Consistent, yes, and enjoyable, but for once the band doesn't
break any new ground: cranked-up chaos, slowed-down feedback
expeditions, discursive spoken word. Musically it's very strong but
conceptually it makes you wonder if they still have anything new up
their collective sleeve. (DBW)
Psychic Hearts (Thurston Moore: 1995)
On Moore's first solo album he's not inclined to stretch himself much: he ends up sounding like Sonic Youth but without Lee and Kim
vocals to break up the monotony. The same preoccupation with celebrity culture and Beat heroes ("Patti Smith Math Scratch,"
the 19-minute "Elegy For All The Dead Rock Stars"), the same feedback paintings and dynamics shifts ("Blues From Beyond The Grave").
And fortunately, the same great, grinding riffs ("Ono Soul") and cheerful disregard for convention. So it's a blast, but there's nothing
new here for fans.
Moore plays bass as well as his usual loud guitars; Shelley is on drums.
Nice Ass (Free Kitten: 1995)
A Kim side project with Julie Cafritz of Pussy Galore, sometimes including Yoshimi P-We of the Boredoms, and Mark Ibold of Pavement. (DBW)
Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love (1995)
A DGC compilation of pre-DGC tracks, it's a pretty good deal and gives a
good representation of the history of the band prior to their big label
signing, starting from "daydream nation" and working backwards. As a
bonus the liner contains a nice assortment of reproduced concert
Sentimental Education (Free Kitten: 1997)
Free Kitten's second album combines the garage catchiness of midcareer Sonic Youth with a lighthearted "try anything" attitude,
and it's an odd but endearing confection.
Largely instrumental, with some lengthy trance tunes (title track), and some rapid-fire
punk raveups ("Eat Cake," the witty rant "Top 40").
A lot of it is fun, including the crunching off-kilter riffs of "Never Gonna Sleep" and the aptly
titled electronic collage "DJ Spooky's Spatialized Chinatown Express Mix." There are unsuccessful atmospheric numbers like the
seven-minute "Gaa," but nothing as dull as a late 90s SY album.
Kim and Julie split all the songwriting credits except for DJ Spooky's track and an amusing sendup of Serge Gainsbourg's 60s Europop tune "Teenie Weenie Boppie";
Kim delivers most of the vocals.
The credits don't say who played what, but I believe Kim and Julie are on guitar, Yoshimi is on drums and Mark Ibold is on bass; some
additional drums were played by Dave Nuss. Worth checking out if you like either deconstructed techno tracks or offbeat guitar jams, and there's
not too many records you can say that about. (DBW)
SYR 1: Anagrama (1997)
First of a series of EPs on their imprint designed as an outlet for the band's experimental efforts (a la Zapple), each one with titles in a different language.
SYR 2: Slaapkamers Met Slagroom (1997)
Second in the series.
SYR 3: Invito Al Cielo (1998)
Third in the series. The album and song titles are Esperanto, making this the most notable cultural creation in that tongue since the William Shatner film Incubus.
A Thousand Leaves (1998)
After getting all those experimental EPs out of their system, you'd think this would be more accessible. Instead,
it's the most dull, meandering, pointless full-length record
SY has made in over a decade. Track after track is nothing but
interminable ringing of trebly guitars, devoid of dynamics,
musical development or emotional impact ("Wildflower Soul," "Hits Of
Sunshine," "Contre Le Sexisme"). On several tunes Kim switches to guitar
and there's no bass, making the uniformity of the sound almost
maddening, and not even Shelley can be counted on to provide his
usual stable drumming. The few hard rockers are all Kim's ("French
Tickler," "The Ineffable Me") so maybe Thurston's the most to blame.
Oh, and if you haven't fallen asleep by the time "Karen Koltrane" comes
on, you'll be treated to some weird guitar sounds. If you're one of the
folks who preferred the band's early work to their Geffen stuff, this
may be a sound for sore ears, but personally, I'll keep wearing out my
copy of Dirty. Produced by Wharton Tiers and the band. (DBW)
Silver Session for Jason Knuth (1998)
On Sonic Knuth Records, a collection of feedback and noise. Not to be confused with all their other collections of feedback and noise.
SYR 4: Goodbye 20th Century (1999)
Two discs of pieces by experimental composers including John Cage, Steve Reich and Yoko Ono. Pretentious much?
SYR 5: Mori & Olive (2000)
Gordon with DJ Olive and drum programmer Ikue Mori.
NYC Ghosts & Flowers (2000)
No Wave meets New Age - the same listless, directionless explorations as the previous full-length album, only more polite. No song
structures, almost no bass, almost no sung vocals - just lots of trebly, slowly arpeggiating guitars. The jamming never
breaks out into carthartic noise, so it's hard to listen to but easy to ignore. Lee's "StreamXSonik Subway" actually has arresting
hooks, but it's one NoDoz in a sea of sleepiness.
Produced by the band and Jim O'Rourke, who adds bass to two tracks and "electronics" to one; Rafael Toral adds guitar to the relatively
punchy "Renegade Princess," and William Winant adds percussion to "Side2Side."
Murray Street (2002)
Again with O'Rourke, but much more vibrant and closer to their peak sound than the last two records.
The downside is, it all sounds pretty familiar: mellow throbbing grooves ("The
Empty Page"); endlessly sustained distorted tones ("Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style"); jarring noisy middles ("Karen
Coltrane," which unfortunately runs far too long and doesn't have much of a bracketing tune).
The brief Gordon rant is "Plastic Sun," and it's not particularly inspired;
she's better on "Sympathy For The Strawberry," which also features groovy drumming from Shelley.
"Disconnection Notice" is the high point: slow hypnotic opening, sudden bursts of loud guitars, a multi-part middle that
touches on a bunch of rock styles, then a slow hypnotic ending.
Sonic Nurse (2004)
I guess the band has nailed down its mature style: this is quieter than Murray Street and louder than Ghosts
& Flowers, but very similar to both. Unfortunately, it's so resolutely midtempo and midvolume, with no highs or
lows, no buildups or breakdowns, it's often just boring ("Paper Cup Exit").
And it sure doesn't help that "Dripping Cream" - the longest track at just under eight minutes - shares a main riff with Billy
Joel's "You May Be Right."
Gordon has four tunes: the liveliest is the almost-rockin' "Pattern Recognition" while the dullest is "Kim Gordon And The Arthur Doyle Hand
Cream," a pointless rumination on Mariah Carey's tabloid coverage.
O'Rourke became a band member at this point.
The Japanese release contained two bonus tracks which later appeared on The Destroyed Room: "Kim's Chords" and "Beautiful Plateau."
SYR 6: Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui (2005)
A live performance from 2003, originally improvised to accompany silent films by Stan Brakhage.
Rather Ripped (2006)
O'Rourke wandered off, and the band promptly got back to rock and roll, knocking out their best album in ten years. Once again, the band's experimental touches - weird distortion and harmonics ("Do You Believe In Rapture?"), Beat poetry ("Lights Out"), thudding single guitar notes ("Jams Run Free") - work a heck of a lot better when they're incorporated into actual songs ("Incinerate," probably their catchiest tune since Dirty).
The disc is shockingly concise; only two songs are over five minutes, and they're worth it: "Turquoise Boy" and "Pink Steam" both build slowly to surprising yet inevitable climaxes.
While the record can get plenty loud ("Sleep Around"), they don't force it, dialing down on several tunes to let the melodies breathe.
Thurston does most of the singing this time; Kim gets four tunes, from the mellow "What A Waste" to the exhilarating "Reena" while Lee's only lead vocal is on "Rats," a great song with a brutal Gordon bass line.
And though the other three get all the attention, Steve Shelley is the key to the listenability of any SY project: when he's playing solid, flexible grooves, as here ("Reena"), you're in for a good time; when he sounds bored and disconnected, so does everybody else.
The only unrewarding tune is the sluggish, free-associated closer "Or."
There are two UK-only bonus tracks, which I haven't heard: "Helen Lundeberg" and "Eyeliner."
The Destroyed Room: B-Sides And Rarities (2006)
A contract-fulfiller, with eleven songs ranging from the one-minute "Razor Blade" to the unedited 26-minute original version of "The Diamond Sea."
Trees Outside The Academy (Thurston Moore: 2007)
Sort of Moore's folk-rock project, as he's mostly on acoustic guitar and bass, with J Mascis playing the solos, Shelley drumming, and violinist Samara Lubelski adding color.
Raucous in places ("Free Noise Among Friends"), but more often the disc recalls the softer moments of Experimental Jet Set ("Fri/End"). As a result, Lubelski's responsible for many of the disc's most arresting moments, as Thurston's still-untrained vocals and Mascis's still-Neil-derived geetar are rather predictable.
Moore does come up with several groovy tunes, though ("Wonderful Witches"; the crunchy instrumental "Off Work"), so it's a respectable work if a minor one.
Sensitive/Lethal (Thurston Moore: 2008)
Two long pieces and one short one.
SYR 7: J'Accuse Ted Hughes (2008)
Two side-long cuts, one recorded live in 2000 (title track) and the other an instrumental from 2003 ("Agnès B. Musique").
Both tunes are slow simmering jams: The first one has a bit more going on, with a Gordon diatribe (in character as Sylvia Plath)
and an eventual crescendo, but it's still a crashing bore. "Agnès B." relies heavily on O'Rourke keyboard drones and never really gets going,
like much of the music they recorded with him.
Continuing the conceit of the SYR series, all the credits and titles of this release are in French, and I believe it was only released on vinyl. I guess I'm not the only one who still has a turntable.
Inherit (Free Kitten: 2008)
After an eleven-year layoff, Gordon, Cafritz and P-We revived their side project (Ibold didn't participate). By now, though, the 60s pop influences are gone, and there are plenty of slow drones ("Erected Girl"; "Monster Eye") that sound just like something Gordon would do for her day job. And since it's closer to the extended minimalism of Sonic Nurse than the punchiness of Rather Ripped (the eight-minute "Free Kitten On The Mountain"), it's not even the sort of Sonic Youth record I dig. Sometimes the sexual politics are intriguing ("Billboard"); otherwise, the only high points are two revved-up Bikini Kill homages: "Help Me" and "Bananas."
Produced by the group and engineer Justin Pizzoferrato; the sole guest is Mascis, who plays guitar on "Surf's Up" and drums on "Bananas."
SYR 8: Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth (2008)
An improvised live performance from 2005, with guests Mats Gustafsson (sax) and Merzbow (laptop). For those of you keeping score at home, the title is in Danish.
The Eternal (2009)
A textbook example of a three-star album: the band is doing what they most often do - jagged rockers ("Sacred Trickster") alternating with atmospheric jams ("Massage The History"), each relying on weird guitar noises; there are some quality tunes ("No Way"; "Poison Arrow") and some forgettable ones ("Calming The Snake"; "Malibu Gas Station"); lyrics target the usual themes, in this case intersections of high and low culture ("Leaky Lifeboat (For Gregory Corso)").
Or to put it another way, a record that is as likely to please existing fans as it is unlikely to convert new ones.
Ibold is now the official bassist; Thurston and Kim sound the same as ever - the good thing about having voices like theirs is that you don't have to worry about losing them.
SYR 9: Simon Werner A Disparu (2011)
A film soundtrack.
Demolished Thoughts (Thurston Moore: 2011)
A mellow acoustic set - even quieter than Trees Outside The Academy - produced by Beck.
There are plenty of mild strings (Samara Lubelski on violin, Mary Lattimore on harp), and occasionally a rhythm section
(Bram Inscore, bass; Joey Waronker, drums).
At times the ethereal vibe works ("Illumine"), delivering a payload of cryptic, serenely disturbing lyrics ("Blood Never Lies").
Too many of the tunes, though, are merely SY-style riffs (or in the case of "Circulation,"
Prince's "I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man" riff) played quietly ("Orchard Street"): in essence, Muzak Youth.
Overall, the good and bad roughly even out, forming a dreamy haze like a summer afternoon you don't remember but vaguely suspect was pleasant.
YOKOKIMTHURSTON (Yoko Ono/Kim Gordon/Thurston Moore: 2012)
Chelsea Light Moving (Chelsea Light Moving: 2013)
Thurston with Lubelski, John Maloney, and Keith Wood; basically it's sometimes slower ("Mohawk")/sometimes quicker (the poppy "Sleeping Where I Fall"), sometimes louder ("Groovy & Linda")/sometimes softer ("Empires Of Time"), sometimes rad ("Alighted")/sometimes drab ("Frank O'Hara Hit"). Same No Wave lyrical obsessions ("Burroughs" - William, not Edgar Rice). In other words, just like Sonic Nurse or any other non-mindblowing SY effort; Moore didn't stake out any new territory, but I doubt he was trying to. I don't think he was trying to prove he can do without the rest of his old band either: I suspect he's not out to prove anything, just getting together with buds and making some noise.
Coming Apart (Head/Body: 2013)
Gordon with "free noise" guitarist Bill Nace. Didn't Heinlein tell us "There ain't no such thing as a free noise"?
Anyway, very long, largely improvised pieces with Gordon free associating in a sing-song voice over Nace's drones; I won't be listening to this one very often.
Last Night On Earth (Lee Ranaldo and The Dust: 2013)
Hey Joni put it all behind you.