Thursday, April 8, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 3--...Walk Out Black)


April 1983

Think about an album that impacted you. Is it all about the music? I doubt it.

What started out as Kim Gordon scratching out a drawing of Thurston Moore's gourd was Xeroxed into a show flyer and eventually became the cover of Sonic Youth's first full-length. Rendered white lines against a flat black backdrop, it suggests that the listeners ears are in for some dark and dank mcnasty filth gutter skunk. Judge a book by its cover, bitches. This ain't a collection of sonatas recited over lilting lyre.

"(She's In a) Bad Mood"--1995 was a fantastic year to be a Sonic fan if you weren't old enough to have grabbed the pre-sellout records, 'cause that's when DGC decided to reissue them. My best friend Angela hated SY then as she does now, but had no qualms taking me out to the mall to get this re-release, seeing as she was always seeking a reason to bolt the Chinese Water Torture chamber that was her grandma's house. I bring it home, and my mom's like, "What's that?" I show it to her, and she checks out the back. "'(She's In a) Bad Mood'? Uh-huh."

Now, to the actual song (yeah, imagine that shit). The guitar strang sounds more like bell clang, sounds more like they pressed "record" too early. Then the competent drum work of Jim Sclavunos kicks in.

"She's in a baaaaad moooood/But I won't fall for it/I belieeeeeve all her liiiiiies/But I can't faall for it." Thurston's initial crooning is pretty unnerving, but the second go-round he's all shouty, and it's just kinda there. (It would take a bit of time for T-money's vox to comfortably wrap itself around the music.)

This is apparently about Lydia Lunch. Given her music, poetry, and interviews, I believe it.

"Protect Me You"--Lee on bass for the first and only time ever. Like Thurston, Kim is still finding her way vocally, but the ominous throb and razor-chime guit aids and abets her increasingly spooky tale of a young girl finding unsavory refuge in some incantatory force field.

"Freezer Burn/I Wanna Be Your Dog (live)"--The song preceding the slash is, apparently, a recording of a deli freezer. (I say "apparently" because, y'know, wasn't actually there.) Strikes me more as spaceship ambiance, but hey. The song after is a slash, a brief taste of life on the 1982 Savage Blunder tour featuring SY and their far more nihilistic pals, liable to headbutt people in the audience, Swans. Savage ravage, Kim's vocals shred cabbage. Cute word salad aside, this is a great example of how liberating the live setting can be. Freed of the spit-screen and the dickface engineer cringing, Kim just lets loose the spectres left right and center. Near-death from above.

Top 3 Sonic Youth tours I wish I could have followed like I did all the ones from 2002 on:
1. 1998, A Thousand Leaves
2. 1982, Savage Blunder
3. 1987, Sister

"Shaking Hell"--"She's finally discovered she's a/He told her so." She's a what? Kim says those lines over and over without ever revealing the payoff. Such mystery is quickly forgotten when she gets to one of my favorite lyrical turns of all time: "Come closer and I'll take off your dress/I'll shake off your flesh."

The unnerving terror that "Shaking Hell" becomes is especially impressive considering the intro piece, which reminds me of elves cobbling.

"Inhuman"--Delivers what it promises, not the least in the way it doesn't seem possible that mortal creatures could make music so devastating to the neural pathways. Unusually nihilistic for this bunch not just lyrically ("My body is a pastime/My mind is a simple joy/I learn my lesson the hardest way") but also the way it starts out psychotic, then drops out into the bass, then, fuck me, into the first nonsense voicings and hypersensate string scrapings. Mosquito abatement for the epic loss.

Apex marks the spot at 2:06, when all that kicking pays off and the warp zone finally starts up again! Huzzah!

(Just a song before I go: never ever forget to acknowledge Kim G. on guitar for this dream of a nightmare, ever.)

"The World Looks Red"--Optical delusion, hybrid hijinks, cliques in the circus freak show cafeteria. Mike Gira wrote a song about it. You wanna hear it, here it go.

"Confusion Is Next"--Snoopy maintains that pizza is the future, and beyond it is root beer. Cookies are next and next after them is the milk. What's a Sonik Tooth, anyway? What's with the guitars sounding like trumpets with harmonicas lodged in their bells? Does it have to do with the heights of depths?

"Making the Nature Scene"--With T-bone yet again on the bass, and Bob Bert making a quick appearance to pound properly primitive, Kim immerses us in NYC in the 80s, pre-Giuliani hosedown. A fella could get a bug-infested blowjob for real cheap, cheaper if he was willing to listen to an art critique afterward.

"Lee Is Free"--In the Filter 2006 story that I simply cannot reference enough times 'cause it is that resolutely bad-ass, Thurston calls this track "timeless." Considering that people in the audience at Youth shows still yell this title out in mindless glee and that the titular man himself chose it as his SY.com forum handle, I'd be inclined to nod at that description.

Lee recorded this to cassette at his homebase, and it becomes clear that the bells and bell-y sounds throughout the album were down to his influence. You will hear nothing of Christmas in this, though. It's a bad-ass being bad-ass. All year round.

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