Sunday, May 30, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 10--Days When They Use Ta)


June 1990

It was a big deal when Sonic Youth did a u-turn and exited onto the main road. They sold out. They comprised their ideals, which were the ideals of the entire indie rock underground scene. They would inevitably dilute their sound for the sake of wider appeal. They sucked the corporate cock in general, and David Geffen's in particular, or at least they were on the waiting list.

Except not really.

It was a great time to be 12 years old, discover Sonic Youth's music, and be ignorant of all the drama.

"Dirty Boots"--Dishonesty can sound delightful, but sometimes songs don't lie. The opening track of the rest of Sonic Youth's life does have an undeniable whiff of Pigpen about it, a loopy dust cloud kicking up around maracas and oddly-configured guit-fiddles. The lyrics are mainly Thurston Moore borrowing hippie dribble to evoke the rugged romance of the touring band. That's all well and wanted dead or alive, but "jelly roll" was and forever is the worst slang term for penis ever dreamed.

"Tunic"--I don't like ironic enjoyment. I know someone who watches TMZ to feel superior. There but for the grace of God goes you being asked if you and David Spade are more than friends as you're trying to get a limo out of LAX, I say.

SY's fondness for the saccharine pop of the Carpenters never struck me as disingenuous simply because I find it easy to believe as a fan of that genre. As much as Richard tried to superimpose himself on their songs as some sort of multitrack genius (oh do not start me up on the backing vocals during the chorus of "Yesterday Once More," the second occurrence of it I mean. The first time is pure magic) his sister Karen was blessed with an effortlessly ethereal voice that stared down studio tricks and glasses of warm milk. She was also cursed with a body and mind twisted into a Gordian knot by anorexia nervosa, a disorder that not many acknowledged, much less comprehended, in 1983, the year her heart finally gave up.

"Tunic" is a soulful tribute, stuck together with Galaxy Glue, juxtaposing the helplessness of the body with the hopefulness of the spirit. Karen herself may or may not have dug it, but I guarantee she woulda said, "The drummer is really good."

"Mary Christ"--Thurston's Cat-hole lick guilt flaring up again. I can't name too many of that religion who never fantasized about making the Pope eat their pussy, or face-fucking Mary.

"Kool Thing"--The coolest thing (ha, shit!) about "Mary Christ" is how the riff to "Kool Thing" is kinda buried there at the end. It's one of those riffs Thurston had in his backpack for awhile, as you can hear him bust it out between songs on the 1987 speed-boot Hold That Tiger. It's also as undeniable as In and Out Burger, and goes just as good with a bottle of Heineken.

I don't get overprotective or overly defensive with Sonic Youth, although I could forgive someone who only knows me through my writing thinking otherwise. I do get a little bodyguard-ish with this song, though. It's the first Sonic song I ever heard, after all, via DC 101.

Sonic Youth on non-college radio. I want y'all to wrap ya heads around that, like caramel slowly spun around a chocolate bar, like I saw on some commercial. Sonic Youth amid all the other mainstream rock on the airwaves.

Then I saw the video on MTV. Again, caramel around chocolate. If you aren't reading this sitting down, or laying down, you probably by now wish you were. On second thought, that's real fuckin' weird if you're like standing right now reading a blog. You must be real obsessive about blood clots.

I wasn't the only one in my home whose attention was captured; my brother (and senior by eleven years) also dug on "Kool Thing." Course, he was always a sucker for the Golem riff. He was also a sex-obsessed party-dude metalhead, making him about as unique as a raindrop. He also wasn't a very malleable type cat, a trait I admire way less nowadays. His tastes in music, his life philosophy, his hopes for the future, none of that was changed by hearing "Kool Thing" or buying Goo. It went alongside his Metallica, Ministry, Beastie Boys and Judas Priest CDs until he finally gave into my daily pleas to borrow it.

He didn't get that CD back.

It wasn't just the music, although I guess it isn't very pure to say that. Well I'm not into purity so much as honesty with my appreciation of any art. Yes my young mind was enraptured by the guitar sounds, so different from the songs I heard on MTV or on the radio or via my brothers extensive collection of music. It was also the aforementioned video, kinetic imagery and intermittent colors, and Kim Gordon. Madonna was still ruling shit back then, and in all of her videos you could see that she was in thrall with the general idea of sexuality. Kim was coming across as a woman aware of and projecting outwards her own sexuality. It was processed--all sexuality is--but Madonna was reeking of chemicals. Kim was flavorful: intimidating, but not imperious; sensuous but not submissive (at least not to the viewer); ajar, not open.

It's funny then to realize that the subject of "Kool Thing" is a younger, more naive Kim, one who idealized rapper LL Cool J and then rapidly realized after talking with him that he was a Bon Jovi-digging materialist. (He made Radio, though, so you can't rip the guy too much.) One MC whose gait matched his yak was Chuck D, and SY convinced their studio mate to drop some silliness in the middle of "Kool Thing." (Being Chuck D, however, it turned out being some authoritarian-sounding silliness.) The back 'n forth between Kim and Chuck produced the amazing "fear of a female planet," a twist on Public Enemy's Fear of a Black Planet, released the same year as Goo. (The PE crew planned on reciprocating the artistic generosity by having Kim provide vox to "Revolutionary Generation," but the schedules could never synchronize, and the world was denied a member of Sonic Youth appearing on one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time.)

Wow, I am saying a lot of things. Word up Pam Beesly.

"Mote"--Lee's one shot at glory this go-round, 'cause apparently Geffen was like "poet dude with three songs is overkill, regulate that, married couple."

Lee takes inspiration from Sylvia Plath's poem "The Eye-Mote" and proves himself worthy as a rock lyricist can of one of the true masters of textual imagery. The music is evocative of Plath, a buzzing note-bed for a stealthy melody line to kick restless legs in. What else? J Mascis and Lee sound great together, too.

That's it, right?

No.

The last four minutes is like watching a slo-mo video of someone sitting on the bathroom floor, face pale and sweaty, twitching from the superhuman effort not to vomit. Eventually they fail, and hike themselves up on bended knees to decorate the toilet. Then they plop back down on their butt, and reach a hand off camera, drawing back to reveal the same bottle of Scotch that took them over the edge. They're not gonna drink more of it are they? Oh yeah. Hearty chug, in fact. Fucking drastic.

"My Friend Goo"--Kim and Thurston switch instruments for this one. I have an issue of Musician featuring SY 'round the time of Goo, and I do not get why Thurston used this song as a blatant example of Kim's improved musicianship on bass. Because she's not fucking playing bass on this song. It's a flat-out lie, and it's not the usual fun, flip bullshit Thurston offers up in Q and A's. It's just misleading and dishonest. He should have been talking up Kim's endlessly fresh approach to six strings. (I'll be doing that later on in this series.)

This song is so goddamn corny. Off and on the cob. It's kind of amazing how childish an obvious intellectual mind can be. But J Mascis pops up yet again, and his deadpan contribution is classic.

(It's so good I didn't see the video for this song at age twelve, or I woulda been turned off guys completely, instead of just halfway like I am now.)

"Disappearer"--I was gonna say this was Thurston's last great lyrical display, but then I tried to contradict myself and got real confuzzled. It's hot, dry, I'm moving in a week, my brain is just scrambled. Lucky me, "Disappearer" scrapes the yellow mess off the plate and replaces it with sunny side variety. Now I get to breathe and feel the freedom of the expansion. Kim told Melody Maker that Goo's songs were "like little gumballs," so Don Fleming stops by to blend in.

The first review of any SY anything my eyes saw was Tom Verlaine's guest write-up of Goo in Spin, and he was especially enamored of the lyrics to this song. (And no, I didn't know who Tom Verlaine was, and what he meant to Sonic Youth. I was exposed to a shit-ton of music as a kid thanks to my thousand siblings, but it was pretty much the same music everybody knew anyway. I wasn't like Jim O'Rourke in the womb kicking at his mom's stomach whenever she stood near some Van Dyke Parks in the record store.)

"Disappearer" is for sure a road ode, but while the lyrics suggest astral travel, I always feel on terra firma when I listen to it. I can see deep blue, some pink, crisscrossing, dissolving, leaving trails. Everything accelerates: music, vehicle, heartbeat.

"Mildred Pierce"--Rampaging near-instrumental, aaaand one of the first alleged songs SY ever dreamed up. I want Thurston's final scream as a ringtone. And so do you, now that I suggested it, ya copycat.

"Cinderella's Big Score"--Thurston told a journo that this was "a real personal song for Kim," and the line "You'd rather have a dollar than a hug from your sis," considered alongside the first image in the video for the song tells the rest of the story.

Thurston's behind the bridge style on this song is another of those innovations that was jacked quiet as kept from SY.

The whole feel of "CBS" is deliriously seasick, like the eggs from "Disappearer" didn't set right. Prob'ly I should not-a drank the Yoo Hoo with them. Oh well. This song rules and I would do it again.

"Scooter and Jinx"--Richard Kern implicated in amp murder. Sex in the courtroom expected. Stenographer with a taste for the lurid wanted.

"Titanium Expose"--Like the band took every classic rock riff it used to discard in the old days as counter to the movement and made a four-course piecemeal. Proof that SY not only are able to do the accessible and familiar, but they can excel at it as well. Can't you just see Joe Satriani , top down on his Camaro, some hot babe's hand on his right thigh, blaring this into the phony California air?

Thurston claimed in an interview that the songs subject matter (the routine that makes connubial bliss) informed the title, that married love could be strong as titanium. Then in another interview, he said that the title was actually based on something he misheard out of J Mascis' mouth. The last one? The true one.

The lyrics are very honorable to the quiet power of a sweet union, though. The musical and lyrical synergy of

I been waiting for you
To smile all the pretty freezing
Winter time comes summer
You are why it's happenin'


is enough to make me yearn for true love, the kind that pulses in the blood.

Goo gets better with age. The record that allegedly made Kim cry from its misrepresentation of Sonic Youth's sound now stands as one of their truly great accomplishments. A lot of people still say the 8-track demos are better, but aside from the smarter pacing of "Mary Christ," that's a ton of hooey. Put that one in the SY urban legends pile along with Kim and Thurston are trust fund babies, Kim was a heroin addict, and Sister is perceptible on Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.

Except...nah. You gotta wait another album for that one.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Briefly, She Speaks

On the eve of the Goo review, listening to the new Shonen Knife record Free Time, reminded me of the three times I've ever had a performer put the mic to my face at a live concert.

--Kim Gordon, Chicago 2002

--Mark Mothersbaugh, DC 2005

--Naoko Yamano, DC 2007

And I didn't freeze any of those times.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 9--The Magic Number)


October 1988

This is it. The classic, the unhinged masterpiece, the record that influenced a thousand artistic choices. The one guaranteed to appear somewhere on someones "best of" list. The template that some grew to resent, but that all struggled to match. The one that features the Zep-esque symbols for each member, which form in a manner not unlike that of Voltron to create the "Forever Mega Devil Babe." The one that a Pixies fanatic will try to convince you is in no way on par, musically or historically, with Surfer Rosa (released the same year). The one that you try and defend to the doubters, with intelligence and dignity abetting your passion, until you notice the other drivers aren't comprehending the signs on the road and you're like fuck it, y'all can eat a dick backwards and you're compelled to reduce the SY vs Pixies argument to pictures.



is


Meanwhile...



has no choice but to be


There. I'm usually content to discuss the actual songs, but since some people running their fingers over keys like to get personal (Kim Gordon is ugly, she and Thurston are trust fund babies) because they can't handle anyone disagreeing with them, I let my IQ drop a summer day. I don't give a great goddamn if someone thinks the Pixies are superior to Sonic Youth, actually, I just seize any and all opportunities to post Peanuts pictures. It's every individual's right to have at least one opinion that is completely ass-backwards. Viva their dumb ass.

"Teen Age Riot"--So why Daydream Nation as the widely-recognized apex? It's all about the concentration and distillation of the existing elements. They're not forcing the sounds out, at least not all the time. Sometimes the sonics are coaxed, other times tricked, and there's those moments where they appear unbidden.

Vocally, our heroes bring words and voices slathered with street sauce but it would be a mistake to ghettoize their collective expression as provincial. Sonic Youth are not limited to their city. Or country. Or planet, really.

"Teen Age Riot" subverts "Schizophrenia" by starting out with Kim G.'s insouciant mantras and leading into Thurston's rocker-kid not-singing. The moment the disarmingly gentle strumming gives way to the jagged big riff, it's like hearing duende.

Like the best art, "Teen Age Riot" comes off like some metaphysical glitch whereby a chunk of my mind (subconscious and conscious both) was sent through a wormhole to a group of people almost as blissfully as ignorant of me as I of them. It's not like reading my thoughts, 'cause frankly I wouldn't get outta the sack for protesting adolescents or to vote Joe Mascis into office, it's the feeling they conjure up, like an aural facsimile of my thoughts. I get that feeling. I know that feeling. I live with it every day. I hear "Teen Age Riot" and it feels like the warm and familiar part of myself that I know I can disappear into if I need to. Just for a little while.

Thurston distilled: an eternally-youthful info-hound who recognizes the importance of studying, exploring, and archiving art and artists and the equal significance of knowing when to just say something fucking rocks. Like when the riff comes back in a couple-thirds of the way through, and Steve Shelley lets off like the motherfucking god of drums, it totally hearkens back to a time in world history when something KICKED A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF ASS. Like in Egypt or something.

"Silver Rocket"--Spin-cycle blastoff around semi-sensical spew. Thurston Moore's life in a song! If I were a baseball player, I'd want this to be my "walking-to-the-plate" music. Absolutely a great albums greatest song, in case my sudden economical approach to reviewing didn't clue you in.

Question: "How do you play a Sonic Youth song in standard tuning?"
Answer: "Very shittily."

"The Sprawl"--I told y'all--SY always got their noses in pages. William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive is the launchpad for Kim, distilled: misty, aware, sultry, sharp as a tungsten needle. "Does this sound simple? Fuck you." Come on down to the store and stay awhile. Browse. It would be nice if you bought some more more more more, but you don't have to. At least not right now.

"Cross the Breeze"--Back-to-back Kim killers, it's like the Easter Beagle comes every Sunday! Listen close and you can hear the puppet masters strings (no real wonder, then, that Bone Awl claim this track as a key influence). Kim kinda evokes "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" by the Clash, except Kim could wear a Miley Cyrus shirt, a beanie, and Mickey Mouse pajama pants and still not be anywhere close to the lameness of Mick Jones. Jonesy peed himself a little when he heard what's going on here. You are listening to masters at work, although all four to a man would tell you otherwise now as then. What SY are doing with their instrumental passages is the opposite of masturbatory and dull. It's like they think the phrase "finite expanse" is an oxymoron.

"Eric's Trip"--Space is the place to chow some bangin' BBQ and play some Ha Ha Herman. Lee's first appearance on DDN vacillates between dialogue-jackery and his own devilishly deets-skirting poetry while the falcon throttles at night.

Said bird of prayer of course being the legendary Drifter, a horse-fucked critter that once upon a time got palmed by a friend of a friend of Thurston Moore's--and somehow ended up in the possession of one Kim A. Gordon by the time he visited her apartment for the first time. Portentous!

The Drifter, goddamn. Body beat to hell for calling someone's mom a supercilious whore, tenderized by confused reindeer, and boasting strings thick as Missouri women. The Great Gear Theft of '99 robbed SY of so many wonderful instruments and implements, but losing the original Drifter may have provided the most cause for grief. Not because its absence rendered so many great songs unplayable live (Thurston used it for "Eric's Trip" and uh...yeah); I mean this was a guitar with true historic and aesthetic value now out there in the ether.

I'll take a moment from weeping and rending garments to say how much I love lyrics that ask a question the music answers. What does being "over the city, fucking the future" sound like? Listen.

"Total Trash"--Thurston's double-tracked mumble explains the wisdom of keeping the underground under the ground, allowing moles to entertain each other with creations of decidedly limited appeal. (Ain't no cash cow.)

At least...it could be. I ain't the voice of omniscience. I ain't a Seattle-based writer mishearing lyrics and avoiding research.

Trying to describe the mid-song breakdown without using orgasmic facial expressions is difficult. It's like trying to describe a panic attack. Depersonalization and derealization are nice words, but unless you've been intimately acquainted at some point with either, it's just empty text. Also, I don't want to juxtapose something so magnificent alongside something that shifts the balance of your spirit in a negative way. The recurrence of the first verse and chorus to conclude "Total Trash" is really a perfect recreation through words and music of a panic attack's immediate aftermath. Things lose focus and move much slower.

"Hey Joni"--Just give the people what they want, Ranaldo by the bucketful.

I have come to despise the word "swagger." It was hip hop that did it, and Jay-Z in particular; anyway, fuck him and his not-as-good-as-Nas ass. Look at his car, his chain, his bitch...he's got swagger. He walks in a room and don't say shit, check his swagger. (If walking in a room and keeping silent denotes a rare and special quality about a person that elevates them above the everyday plebes, I'm in fact a goddess. And the spirits talk to me.)

What it is, the word has been diluted by overuse and abuse. Shame. 'Cause if Kim and Thurston's songs stagger, Lee's have swagger. He enunciates his earthy tone-poems, no doubt down to the fact that he possessed then and possesses still the most traditionally "palatable" voice of the three singers. His emotional reports make him the ipso facto most related-to member by its hardcore fanbase. His words scrape bone and capture souls in a bottle.

"Hey Joni" marks the first time Lee has had more than one track on a single album, and what a honey drip. It's either about: Joni Mitchell; some other girl named Joni; a guy named Joe; the song "Hey Joe"; some ex of Lee's who liked and/or reminded him of Joni Mitchell; drugs and/or whores.

Shots ring out from the center of an empty field
Joni's in the tall grass
She's a beautiful mental jukebox
A sailboat explosion
A snap of electric whip crack
She's not thinking about the future
She's not spinning her wheels
She doesn't think at all about the past
She's thinking long and hard
About that wild sound
And wondering will it last?

Sometimes, I can see where all the "OHMYGODGIVELEEMORESONGSONTHEALBUMS" hysteria comes from. With nerve-twitching imagery and a mist of nostalgia that's true to that word's etymology, stacked with slash burn pillage rebuild the village sonics, all cold blue steel and sweet taboo fire, it's foolish to deny genius. So I won't. I'm just saying some o' y'all need to keep it in yer pants when Lee songs start up, okay.

Also, I have no theory what the years recited at the end are supposed to signify either, and I can't be bothered to coax a crap forth either. Why can't artists have secrets? "It's 1812..." Cool, there was a war that year.

"Providence"--Indie rock's version of the hip-hop album skit. A fan, a piano, a Watt, a frazzling weed habit...how am I not riveted after 22 years?

"Candle"--Pretty as a bride, this one. Steady pulsing light that glows and grows but never goes. The shadow ain't as aware as legend has it. Reminds me of ascending the subway station steps at Columbia Circle on a brisk November NY night and seeing the babe-blue lights forcing everyone's attention to the trees. I wanted to stand there with Patrick and just gaze, and for a bit we did. But there's only so long New York City lets one stand around and enjoy anything.

"Rain King"--Alongside the not-yet "Hoarfrost," my favorite set of Lee lyrics. The guitars here have always sounded rode hard and put away wet, which is why as a complete song I can't rank it over "Hey Joni" on the album. It lacks clarity and precision.

That said..."Marries every dictionary from his trainyard bliss." That's classic. Fuck some crap like "Werewolves of London." That song has one kill line in it (not the first ones, either, I'm talking the intrepid alliteration of "Little old lady got mutilated late last night"); "Rain King" is wholesale slaughter. Straight General Tso's on the menu.

(For your edification: a "Pitchfork kiss" is a review score between 8.0 and 9.4. A Pitchfork BJ is 9.5 to 10.0)

"Kissability"--"It's been a long time/Kim shouldn't-a left us/Without a song where she sounds breathless." I never get used to the six-song gap between Kim songs here. Amazing. (And if you say that this "breather" is one of the reasons you like Daydream so much, I'll hunt you down and knock you unconscious with an airborne chicken burrito.)

"You sigh hard." Those are the best kind. Kim making empty promises sound like carnal salvation while the boys cluck their tongues behind her.

"The Wonder"--I used to mishear "Reggie White" until I figured, why the hell would some skinny Opie motherfucker namedrop a badass football player? I dunno, why the hell would some skinny Opie motherfucker treat the guitar like he does, like it's simultaneously his deliverance and damnation?

The dysgenic elephants stampeding is forever the highlight. Babar gone wild.

"Hyperstation"--Elephants are easy to bring down, though; ever seen 20 Million Miles From the Earth?

The SY/NY walking tour now includes "Bowery to Broome to Greene" (joining Orchard and Delancey, of course).

One element that contributes to the Daydream Nation mystique are the photos by Michael Lavine. A CT boy, a transplanted Cali girl, a Midwest straight edge kid, and oh yeah an actual fucking New Yorker, all looking like they sprouted up from the vial-tiled concrete to send out signals of despair and desire for a world that most likely won't care but so what, we're from New York City fuck you. I cannot but see those pictures when I hear this song. Thurston in his tacky Zodiac shirt getting roughed up by ballers...I can see the metal chain net when I hear this song. I see ransacked apartments, cheap deli food, puddles, insomnia. I've never actually had it pinball throughout my body during any of my many sojourns in NYC though, but

"Eliminator Jr."--this song has. I guess the type friend I attract and the type places we go in the city don't lend themselves to snarling paranoia. Screeching rocking ready to hurl a brick at the whole shit, that's the type you'll find me with. (Them, and the kind like me that'll be ready with a comment on the brick's trajectory.) We got "Eliminator Jr." in our heads. Everything's cool, just duck. Or laugh.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gone Baby

As you wait for the Daydream Nation review to materialize this weekend, I must take time to announce that No Setlist is now sold out. Thanks everyone who bought a copy and who took time out of their lives to read it. That one book made a lot of my dreams come true, and I'm glad I got to share so much with y'all.

And yeah. There's a part 2 coming.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Beautiful Jukebox: The Music of Sonic Youth (Selection 8--Twin Flame)

JUNE 1987 (please note that this picture shows the original artwork for the album, unobscured by black bars. AKA, "a naked Sister.")

"Sister is weird."--Steve Shelley
"I like Sister alot."--Kim Gordon

Whenever a piece of art is said to have multiple layers that reveal greater and deeper facets when peeled back and explored, it's only natural to use the onion metaphor. Everyone knows you peel onions. It's an easy enough reference and you don't have to wonder if any in the audience will get it. But who takes that metaphor to its logical conclusion? Artistic expression at the apex can make tears well up; it's breathtaking to realize what imagination, creativity, and ability can accomplish and engender. (Fuckin' genius, how does that work?) If EVOL was five steps forward for Sonic Youth, Sister is fifteen.

"Schizophrenia"--SY have always been eggheads likin' they booky-books; I've never known anyone to claim they like the band in spite of this (even if some fans' literary adventurousness begins and ends with Chuck Klostermann essays on Slinky commercials). Leading up to and during the recording of Sister, the novels of sci-fi lord Philip K. Dick were owning the neurons and glia of Thurston Moore in particular. One of Dick's recurrent themes in his fiction was the "phantom twin," a motif inspired by the death at five months old of his twin sister, Jane Dick. Understanding Dick's work, and the tragic impetus behind it, is to understand also that Sonic Youth are using Sister to pay homage to not only this writer and his individual integrity and courage, but to the candor and bravery displayed by the truest artists, even in the face of misunderstanding or worse, apathy.

The all-tubes studio of Walter Sear makes for some womb-like listening, for sure. Steve Shelley is notoriously not-nuts about the drum sound on the album, which was filtered through amniotic fluid and thus sounds alternately flattened, hollowed-out, and sometimes buried alive. So technically, it's a nightmare. But how many great songs are perfection? Name one song you love that doesn't have some element somewhere that wouldn't make a studio engineer have an aneurysm? So to me the drum controversy over Sister is overblown. It's not like listening to St. Anger, for Christs sake.

"Schizophrenia" proves the brouhaha pointless. The first thing we hear is Steve's incessant boom-boom-bap boom-boom-boom-bap, and it's an immaculate lead-in for the vagabond melody to come. Inspired by a mysterious visitor to Philip Dick's door ("She said Jesus had a twin/Who knew nothing about sin"), Thurston's verses are marked by a low-key delivery that makes the descent into mental ruin more affecting than any overwrought throat histrionics. The music then takes a detour before arriving at a place that may sound gentler, but is actually sharper than ever. Kim comes in then, delivering the girls plaintive split-mind monologue.

The final minute and a half is an onion field. "I know we told you we were gonna let you go, but...." Build. Sustain. Peak. Detumescence. Myotonic Youth.

"Catholic Block"--Thurston doesn't just mindlessly channel another man's thought process though, here he takes some Dick and splashes it with the guilt-juice that his own upbringing served up for him every day. Me and my father did not agree on much but goddamnit he was right about Catholicism. Wrong about race relations, gender equality, and abortion rights, but yeah, he nailed it about that cadre of kiddy-diddlers.

This time, the guitar (beautifully warbled and stretched-out) leads into Steve's beat which is aces even if the hats have a weird way of saying "hi." Straight fuckin' rocktasm, let it go to work, bring it all back home, it serves you fuckin' right.

The section right after "iron to gold" is cut way too short, so it's an undiluted vodka "fuck yeah" moment when it returns to ride out, albeit much slower and with a healthy dose of acoustic guitar floating amid all that arcing feedback.

(And if anyone doesn't know "Do you like to fuck/I guess I'm out of luck" is from a Dick novel, now you do. Quite a few lyricals on here were lifted wholesale from his work, so next time you're praising Thurston's way with words, consider that maybe you're just talking about his way with making away with another person's way with words.)

"Beauty Lies in the Eye"--Okay, but this song is the truth. Kim's first solo on Sister could almost be called psychedelic. A lions roar gets sucked into a black hole, for one thing. The chord changes are so lazy and perfect; it's like retreating under the boardwalk when a late afternoon storm drives you off the beach and your eyes keep waiting to see the gray clouds break, the rain to fall, the waves to roil, the sediments to shift. That lifeguard yelling over there can kiss my ass.

"Stereo Sanctity"--How can you not love a track that begins with a shout to the greatest year of the 20th century? Totally what that is there.

If Sonic Youth were a cartoon character, they'd be Snoopy's shades-donning hipster Joe Cool. And if Sonic Youth were a movie, they'd be Way of the Dragon. Bob Bert would be Chuck Norris, and Steve Shelley would be Bruce motherfuckin' Lee. It's a good thing I never learned to drive; I'd be like, "Yeah, I wanna take a road trip!" and then pop some SY in the player, take off, and when this song came on, I'd end up ripping the steering wheel clean off while screaming, "HEY! GOLD CONNECTIONS!" Or wreck the car just to say I did it.

Sex wishes it was as good as this song.

The last minute and a half! They do it again! Unreal. Or irreal, rather. Take a ride on the tilt-a-skirl.

"Pipeline/Kill Time"--Kim's bassline is pretty brain-dead here, but it still sounds cool as shit. Steve Shelley's drumming makes me want to eat a calla lily. The guitar makes beeswax, but forgets to store the honey. Conclusion: the rhythm section kills it. The second half of the song is different tale, spoken word and Moog flooge.

We should kill time.

Lee Ranaldo's inspiration was a friend's connubial travails, and the imagery gives this song a crepuscular feel. This is the earliest example that can be cited as proof of Lee's more emotional and earthy approach to lyrics in comparison to his comrades.

"Tuff Gnarl"--Not convinced? Check this juxtaposition, then. I enjoy boner babble and titty talk as much as the next filthy girl, but I actually have a friend who says this is her favorite SY song ever, and that's just amazing as the pyramids to me. Really? "Tuff Gnarl"?

My favorite thing is the assonance achieved when Thurston and the guitar line come together: "Amazing, grazing..."

No, actually, my favorite thing about "Tuff Gnarl" is the story Mike Watt told about playing it live with his band, and Steve Shelley sat in on drums. Watt's drummer is trying to tell Beat Patrol how to play it, and Watt's all, "Dude, this guy wrote the part!"

The word "field" is used quite a bit on this album. I approve.

"Pacific Coast Highway"--Kim Gordon and the No Good, Terrible, Very Bad Day to Start Hitchhiking. The windows are fogged-up, how are you ever going to get where you want to go? Don't worry, this won't take long.

I always enjoy a good serial killer story, even ones that skip the gory details, and especially ones that feature sunny interludes. But please don't accuse me of insensitivity, as I always take the time to acknowledge the memories of the victims. So in the case of the PCH Killer, please join me in honoring Steve Shelley's drumming on this song, which to this day has not been found.

"Hot Wire My Heart"--This is a cover of a Crime song. I have already typed one more sentence than I need to.

"Kotton Krown"--You gotta love the DGC Committee For Correct Spelling, right? Hell, I know writing No Setlist sometimes I'd be like, nah man, the K's just don't look right. Forgive me, I wrote so much of that stuff right after getting fucked in the head by the most bewitching erotic entity known to Earthlings. And enduring post-coital comedown in freezing, scummy bus terminals.

The first-ever true Kim and Thurston duet, with Kim wisely mixed lower. (I futzed with my speaker mix once upon a time, just to hear Kim more prominently here...not a great idea, really.) It's also a glorious, dissolving love song. Whether it is from one person to another or one addict to heroin, I'll let you decide. Thurston's words in interviews tend to support the former take ("It's a fine line between sensuous and sleazy," he once said in explaining how challenging he found it to write erotic lyrics, and he's right; this could have easily degraded into some MC5 "baby don't you wanna fuck some revolutionaries" shit) but you can make a compelling case for the sordid side, too, basically revolving around the fact that you filter heroin solution through a cotton ball before shootin' the shit. Hmm. (This is a very popular take on songmeanings.net, where every SY track is about drugs and/or whores.)

The lyrics really are fantastic: "angels are dreaming of you," "your carnal spirit's praying", "fading and celebrating," "I'm a Care Bear." Wait. Misheard that last one.

But understand that there is no surpassing the sounds these fools make. There's like a zoo of guitars happening in the introduction. And 2:12 to 3:51? It's like an orgasm having an orgasm. It's total show-and-tell. One minute "angels are dreaming of you," well okay, what's that like? Listen! There! That is what it's like. Now just shut up and fall in love.

"White Kross"--Shreds. Kills. "C'mon, Jenn, I need more than that!" Man, if that's what you think, you do need more. You need the Charlie Gordon surgery, buddy. This is a green underwater vessel. More Catholic guilt, as charged up as a killer whale sick to death of playing tricks for all the gawking bipeds. Give the beast its respect.

Goddamn.

Bit o' trivia: this album was almost named Humpy Pumpy. Can you imagine. Reminiscing on the great SY 80s trilogy: EVOL, Humpy Pumpy, Daydream Nation.

Bit o' plead: Charlotte Grey once did a horrid cover of "Kotton Krown." I distanced myself from it posthaste, but if you have any interest in tracking it down and killing it, I'd be much obliged.