Thursday, October 09, 2003

I've been a fan of the mighty Sonic Youth going on 15 years now. During that time, they've put out a couple of the most important albums of their time. They've disappointed me on rare occasions, but they've never let me down. They put on one of the most ferocious shows I've ever seen (Bloomington, IN, IU Student Union, early '91, waited an hour and a half in 35-degree weather wearing just a sweat-soaked t-shirt, no coat, to meet them, and it was worth the ensuing cold, 'cause they're so fuckin' cool). And they've taken chances that no other band on a major label would ever dare (except, in some ways, Pearl Jam).

One of those ways is the way in which Thurston, Kim, Lee, and Steve (and now Jim) somehow got Geffen to agree to allow them to release other albums on their own SYR imprint. Foremost among those for me is 1999's Goodbye 20th Century, two discs of SY taking on contemporary classical composers from John Cage and Steve Reich to Christiann Wolff and Yoko Ono (!). It's one of my favorite Sonic Youth albums, ever. This is free form experimental noise at its finest, the natural guitarrorist companion to Ellipsis Arts' triple-CD comp/box-set OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music.

Sonic Youth, like Hendrix before them, have never been afraid of feedback, and in fact embrace it as another note, another tone. They're just as comfortable working in ambient, abstract structures as writing pop songs (see Dirty's "100%"). To me, they've always been the accessible epitome of the avant garde. Their music would have been the perfect accompaniment for the experimental films of Maya Deren back in the '40s, had they existed back then. SY are utterly fearless and utterly independent, never following anyone's muse but their own. They're true, honest originals, so much so that if they had never gotten together, we might not have known we needed to invent them.

Five crucial Sonic Youth albums:
Daydream Nation (Blast First! 1988)
Sister (SST, 1987)
Goo (DGC, 1990)
Goodbye 20th Century (SYR, 1999)
Washing Machine (DGC, 1995)

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