Sonic Youth are the indie rock Beatles. Which means that they are just like the Fantastic Four in terms of being an influential, gifted, vibrant, adventurous band--just minus the worldwide fame, millions of dollars, box sets, name shirts, video games, and lunchboxes.
There's a couple sets of conventional wisdom about this unconventional racket-gang, and if that duality seems to defy logic, that's perfect.
One side avows SY as a massively impactful band, crucial to setting the 80s underground in motion (and helping it maintain its speed), and providing its denizens with a new, dizzying language to communicate with. To them, Sonic Youth simply revolutionized a road considerably traveled by and thus made all the difference.
The contrasting viewpoint looks at SY as a once-relevant group inevitably surpassed by so many who have come after. The students who attend this school of semi-thought greet every new Sonic LP (and oh, how they come, one after the other!) with a smirk; but their faces are not necessarily twisted in displeasure. It's just...it's weird when your grandparents try to keep up, right?
(There is among us in this world a third faction: the folks who have never liked Sonic Youth, and gleefully refuse to acknowledge their place in the history of recorded sound. I don't count these people in my history of the band because, honestly, these people are shitheads. If you recognize yourself to be one of this type, I feel for you. Also, please remember that the act of breathing involves inhalation and exhalation.)
It's not hard to figure what camp I fall in with--the one with the s'mores. The Sonic Youth wedding party is comprised of things old, new, borrowed, and dressed in all visible colors, crossing paths and combining powers to create new shapes, or as vocalist/bassist/guitarist Kim Gordon put it, "We just play until something sounds like something." This upcoming series of blog posts featuring song-by-song reviews of the most dazzling and important discographies in the history of rock music will ideally strike the same balance of edification and entertainment that Sonic Youth themselves (almost always) have.
I've been promising it for awhile. Hope it's enjoyed.