Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Neither Elegy Nor Effigy: The 30 Greatest Sonic Youth Songs...And the 10 Worst (Part Three)

Pretentious preamble sucks.  Yer gonna smile, sneer or shrug at these choices no matter what.

10.  "Kotton Krown"
APPEARS ON:  Sister (1987)

Love song definitely, but what's the object of affection?  A person?  A city?  Heroin?  Is it heroin?

Thurston's interview-speak supports the non-opiate theory ("It's a fine line between sensuous and sleazy").  Giving credence to the more sordid take is that a cotton ball can be used to filter the heroin solution just prior to shooting up.  Only one person knows for sure, and it's possible he's actually forgotten by now.

Lyrically, I can't but want to bake it muffins:  "Angels are dreaming of you," "Your carnal spirit's spraying," "I'm a Care Bear."  Wait...misheard that last one.  But yeah, who the hell writes like that?  This is back when Thurston was a true poet, long before he felt compelled to adopt the affectations of one.  "Angels are dreaming of you" floors me to this day.  I'm serious.  Don't try picking me up either.

Musically, it's a roaming zoo packed with pandas and komodo dragons.  2:12 to 3:51 is the aural manifestation of an orgasm having an orgasm.

"White Kross" comes screaming right after "Kotton Krown," short and sweat-splashed in sharp contrast.  It educes this very unnatural desire in my heart--to escape my body.  First it eyes what would seem the easiest route by attempting to burst from my chest, then up through the throat, and finally it pushes laboriously against my spine.  No such luck, ticker o' mine.

9.  "Rain King"
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)

Sonic Youth's most woefully underappreciated song. The stream-of-consciousness lyrics pop up through SY's version of classic rock like the eternally cool observations of a man who has seen enough to know you shouldn't see it all.  "Crossfire rain king with his cadillac kid/Marries every dictionary from his trainyard bliss." Are you fucking serious, Ranaldo?  A writer needs some gelatinous cognitive processes happening in his head and deeply-stained blood rushing through everywhere else to scratch those words out.  Amazing, amazing language. 

I already explained why I chose "Hey Joni" over "Eric's Trip," so why "Rain King" over "Hey Joni"?  Letter-chain magic.  Work it just right, and the world will volunteer to be your assistant.

8.  "Hoarfrost"
APPEARS ON:  A Thousand Leaves (1998)

Lee's best song as a member of Sonic Youth; his upcoming solo album may or may not have a track to better it.  No song, save for the gently falling "Skating" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio, evokes winter with more sure-footed vision.  It's tempting to melt into the nearest surface when "Hoarfrost" fills the room.

With this song and "Karen Koltrane," Lee shines on what I feel is SY's best album.  So wherefore art the damn thing then?  On the cusp.  Just "Hoarfrost" is more in my mind these days, is all.

7.  "Starfield Road"
APPEARS ON: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)

Give grown men zap-guns and they'll regress in record time.  It's all fun and games till the spacecraft lands.  The invasion will be brief and devastating, thankfully.  Meticulous planners, those so-called "aliens." 

My dear Patrick and I were in attendance to witness the reappearance--after twelve long years--of this song in concert.  When Steve busted out the BOOM BOOM PISH BOOM BOOM BOOM PISH, we were hopeless to do anything other than erupt.  Just another memory for the friendliest bank I'll ever do business with.  

Also?  Best introduction in the history of anything.

"Bull in the Heather" is Neptune, "Starfield Road" is Saturn.

6.  "The Diamond Sea"
APPEARS ON:  Washing Machine (1995)

Stands with "Kool Thing," "Schizophrenia" and "Teen Age Riot" on the shortlist of songs that can claim the title of SY's signature tune.  At 19:35, it is the longest song to ever appear on a Sonic full-length.  

It is possible to experience a positive crisis, which seems to be the case for the protagonist of "Diamond Sea," a lucky soul experiencing the first wondrous days of romantic love in bloom.  Thurston's words are solicitous and kind, but it's the extended instrumental section that does the most to quell the anxiety threatening to derail a beautiful journey.  The method so used expresses an entire lifetime spent in thrall to the heart.  Life, to death.   In between, don't be afraid to share a secret or two.

Before "The Diamond Sea"'s appearance at the end, Washing Machine's title track was the longest song on an SY record--nine whole minutes!  Kim rides the blissful memory of sippin' a soda and rolling her eyes at the future while the jittery kid in the orange/red down vest a few tables over inadvertently makes his mom crush on him.  

5.  "Massage the History"
APPEARS ON:  The Eternal (2009)

To hear Kim Gordon tell it, you need to really lean in.  Once at optimum position to discern words, she'll gladly tell your her dual inspirations for "Massage the History":  Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the dying record industry.  Definitely explains the blood-sucking references, and also why Kim sounds like she's pale and shaking the entire time.  

Except isn't about a TV show or gasping monolith.  I mean that's cute and all, Kim knows how to work a soundbite and make the idiot fishermen happy with their catch, but this song is probably the most personal she's written since "Sweet Shine."  

The band make us wait 100 seconds before Kim starts singing. The lead in is a magnificent melding of Thurston's acoustic and Lee's electric slide guitar. The resultant mirage melts bones.  

2:51 to 2:54. Three seconds where the best parts go taut against each other. Lee's mournful slide; Kim's yearning voice. It seems almost impossible for such a rapturous concurrence of sounds to exist. That it does is testament to the rewards of the journey.

"You're so close/Close to me."

If this was the last song Sonic Youth ever recorded…brilliant.  Standing fucking ovation till my hands become raw.

Putting another song against this one isn't fair.

4.  "Inhuman"
APPEARS ON:  Confusion Is Sex (1983)

And if this was the last song I ever saw Sonic Youth perform live….

How powerful is a blow that breaks your tongue and makes your teeth bleed?   Funny how I even see it coming and can't (or won't) stop the assault.  Sick, sick puppies all around.    

Thurston's rumble-fuck bass instills in me the very mistaken notion that I can dropkick a brick loose from a wall.  

"(She's In A) Bad Mood" is analogous to "Inhuman" in that both traffic in sketchy menace, but the chick Thurston's yakkin' about doesn't scare me.  She can borrow some of my Midol and deal with it.

3.  "Theresa's Sound World"
APPEARS ON:   Dirty (1992)

We all know a Theresa; maybe you're fortunate enough to be one.  In touch with worlds beyond, privy to sounds and visions that escape the limited purview of the huddled masses yearning to be, a gracious host and compassionate friend…even if she doesn't seem to have a filter on her thoughts.  Her unabashed, uninhibited spirit emboldens some, repulses others, and affects everyone deeply.  

She is not a sex symbol, and cannot be swayed by the crackling come-ons of silly boys.  I like you, "Sugar Kane," but you aren't a Theresa.

2.  "Silver Rocket"
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)

Flat-out rock and goddamn roll with patented feedback break, all in the aid of electrical edification.  Flashing, smashing, bending, upending, mighty usurper of gruesome thoughts, "Silver Rocket" tells me that space travel is kinda crap when so much potential exists down here with astral travel still.  

"Teen Age Riot" is a true anthem inasmuch as a self-aware, highly intelligent band will allow.  But it never changed my life.

1.  "Star Power"

Still the champion of my Sonic heart, and always will be.  I'll put it in writing and notarize that baby. 

"Star Power" isn't forever linked in my mind with some pivotal life-event, it doesn't put me in  mind of a special someone--I just fucking love the song.  EVOL was SY's first album with Steve Shelley behind the kit, and "Star Power" is their first true attempt at "pop," with the new kid laying down a martinet beat that allows Lee and T to tentatively explore melodic fields.  Kim takes her (then) husband's words and recites them in a voice that gives the impression she's several hundred paces from the boy party, reflecting on idol worship with a promethazine passion, somehow sounding alluring despite her deliberate remove.  

"Everything turns black to blue."  Everything.  Hell, even the truncated acoustic version they recorded in 2009 for some show I don't care about was dipped in honey.

I have waxed so rapturous over what happens from 1:02-1:16, likened it to shaving mountainsides with nylon strings, claimed it was the closest any of us will get to attaining "sensory sponge" status without the use of illicit drugs, and most drunkenly proclaimed it would be the first song Snoopy played at a pizza party.  I ain't wrong about any of it.

I know many of you will bemoan that I did not place "Shadow of a Doubt" anywhere in my top 30.  Well, I gotta be in the mood for sexually-charged murder plots playing out on accelerating vehicles.  I am always in the "Star Power" mood.

Okay, on to the controversy.  Why do a "Worst" list?  Well, I've written so much about my favorite band, and as their chapter seems ready to come to a close, so is mine.  Writing about SY has done more for me than I can tell you. So if I'm about to call it a day,  might as well cover all the bases.  I've never done a "Worst of SY" before (frankly 'cause they don't have very many bad songs over 27 years of recording music) so this is new territory for me and my pen.   And also, they're a band of human beings, not the Four Sublime Lords come into Being.  They fuck up sometimes.  Ten times, in fact.  

10.  "Do You Believe In Rapture?"
APPEARS ON:  Rather Ripped (2006)

What a waste of harmonics.  The American people sure as fuck didn't deserve eight years of aw-shucks Godboy Bush anymore than the people of the world deserved three minutes of soggy faux-protest poetry.  

9.  "Satan Is Boring"
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)

Song is boring.  Drugs make music better except when they don't.  

8.  "Lights Out"
APPEARS ON:  Rather Ripped (2006)

I swear I don't hate Rather Ripped; NYC Ghosts and Flowers is still their least impressive album.  But Jesus, the nadirs on Rather Ripped are just jaw-droppingly bad.  It's okay for Thurston to sing along to the guitar line so long as said line is interesting.  Don't meander and call it menace.  OOH IT'S LIGHTS OUT FOR ME I'M SO SCARED.  Pfft.

7.  "In the Mind of the Bourgeois Reader" 
APPEARS ON:  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)

What a waste of an amazing title.  Thurston coulda saved this one by pulling a Gadsby of sorts:  no use of the letter "o" anywhere in the lyrics.  I vaguely remember liking this one when the album was first released, but I was sixteen and easily impressed.

6.  "Peace Attack"
APPEARS ON: Sonic Nurse (2004)

Thurston's heartfelt desire for a just world is commendable.  Writing songs that bore me a hole allowing me to fall to my death, not commendable.  Maybe an additional verse would have given the track some variety and thus spice and thus life?  I dunno.  When Thurston's in putrid-poet mode it's best not to give him any more room.   

5.  "My Arena"
APPEARS ON:  "The Diamond Sea" single (1995)

Advice:  Write sober, edit wasted.  Not the reverse, which is clearly what happened here.  Soft as chow mein noodles.  Quick repetition of the last word in a line helps make any song 25% more "what the hell is this shit?"  It's befuddling how it starts off with Thurston's envelope poetry ("You smell like a rosary/And you like a Jew") and then some Jet Set-style Kim takes over.  Her refrains are mildly pleasing, but go on for far too long.  "Nowhere to go, nothing to do," and nothing to say atop it all.

"You drunk all my wine girl."  Yeah, well you clearly got hold of all the crack, my dude.

4.  "Self-Obsessed and Sexxee"
APPEARS ON:  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)

Another song where I admire and appreciate Thurston's sentiments while utterly loathing the overall execution.  The only interesting part of the song is the "party all the time" refrain, which just makes me want to listen to that Eddie Murphy song.  

3.  "Stalker"
APPEARS ON: "Drunken Butterfly" single (1992)

I would rather have a stalker than listen to this song.  "Got me prowlin' like a police car."  Dude, how did this happen?  

2.  "Sleepin' Around"
APPEARS ON:  Rather Ripped (2006)

A promising instrumental chug turned fatuous throwaway thanks to--

"Sleepin' around/Sleepin' around/What would the neighbors say?"  

Oh, I have some ideas.  Post-K & T split this song makes me even more squeamish.  It's enough that their separation has tainted a good song like "Titanium Expose," but turning this one from piss-poor to crappy is just beyond the pale.

1.  "Small Flowers Crack Concrete"
APPEARS ON:  NYC Ghosts and Flowers (2000)

I have a love/hate relationship with this song.  It's about as enjoyable to listen to as synchronized puking, but man is it fun to scribble out some parodic poetry in its dishonor.  Give me some aimless hippie drivel and I'll work like Rumpelstiltskin on that shit.  

Some songs should be accompanied by a list of possible side effects.  "Small Flowers Crack Concrete" is one of them.  "May cause shortness of breath, nausea, rash, drowsiness, loss of appetite, heartburn and narcotic squads to sweep through your poet den."  Poetry for the sake of poetry, oh ghost of T. S. Eliot won't you save us from poetry for the sake of poetry!   On the title track, Lee does it right.  He delivers his carefully-chosen words casually at first, then lets the emotion build up naturally.  The end result is an actual song, as opposed to, your band came up with some music, and you threw a poem you had laying around on top of it.  

Now, then...that wasn't so bad, was it?  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Neither Elegy Nor Effigy: The 30 Greatest Sonic Youth Songs...And the 10 Worst (Part Two)

20.  "JC"
APPEARED ON:  Dirty (1992)

Kim and Thurston each wrote a song to memorialize their friend Joe Cole, a roadie who had slogged it out with Black Flag and later the Rollins Band.  He was murdered on December 19, 1991, shot at point-blank range outside the home he shared with Henry Rollins, victim of a botched robbery attempt.  Both tracks found a place on Dirty--Thurston's fried-pig squeal "100%" and Kim's "JC."  The former was released as a single and remained a perennial live favorite.  The latter was never put out for the public as a digestible representation of the album that was supposed to break SY in the mainstream, and was dropped from concerts after 1993.  

"JC" doesn't have the high profile, true, but so what.  It squeezes my bones.  You know how infrequently that happens?  For years Dirty was my favorite album, and while it's actually fallen in my estimation in the twenty years since, "JC" has risen.  

Adolescents think they know anguish, and they do--but rarely as intensely as they imagine. I'm in my 30s.  A lot has happened since I was 14 and playing Dirty incessantly.  My father died.  I had not one but two medical crises, the last of which was just a couple weeks ago.  I can now grasp and visualize a world where I do not exist.  How many teens can say that?  Come on, the world still revolves around your self-important ass at that stage in life.  As you mature, certain base facts of life finally hit and spread out in a sticky web over the brain.  I used to get so into the resplendent anguish sighing out of "JC" that it invigorated me--I thought I could relate!  Ha.  No.  Now I can, and it doesn't excite me.  

I get why Kim rushes her delivery; she's taking control by testing the elasticity of her lungs,  heart still aching over an unfair trial.   Or is it the fact that some eulogists need time to compose themselves between sentences, to catch their breath before it leaves forever, to soldier on and "do right by" their loved ones, while still others just want to get the process over with, so they unleash a torrent of emotions, vacillating between blunted desolation, hysterical disbelief, and grievous acceptance.  To hear the usually self-possessed and imperious Kim Gordon reveal her heart like this is still a shattering experience.

Adversely, "100%" is a raucous tribute that gives insight to Cole's character.  It is distinctly how a guy would see his friend, and how he would honor his buddy for the benefit of outsiders.  

19.  "Orange Rolls, Angels Spit"
APPEARED ON:  Dirty (1992)

More Dirty, more Kim.  Empirical evidence indicates that this is indeed the very fucking filthiest thing on that record.  Kim told an interviewer way back when that "Orange Rolls" was about "drug craziness," and given that until a few years ago I understood approximately 8-10 words in the whole damn thing, I could buy that explanation.  The way Kim forces the words through gritted teeth, the revving guitars…it's craziness, at the very least, sizzling through the floor to collapse in a sweet sweaty heap.  The process is repeated till the Earth's core is reached.  From that point on--all bets are off.

"Orange Rolls" is just more terrifying a listen than the other Kim "rocker" on Dirty, the classic rock-pilfering "Drunken Butterfly."  Oh, that one's a basket of honey biscuits, no question.  I've spasmed something silly to it at many an SY gig.  

18.  "I Love You Golden Blue"
APPEARED ON:  Sonic Nurse (2004)

Wow, I sure like Kim.  Yeah, she's kinda the hero.  

The description I wrote for "Golden Blue" in my review of Sonic Nurse cannot, for my multi-colored money, be improved upon.

Like watching a loved one, or maybe even the loved one, slowly slip away. Before the color drains away completely, before functions cease and respiration expires, there's the moment when that which animates us,that essence, reaches the pinnacle before continuing on its peregrination. "Is it time to go? It's a place I know."

Kim's voice is barely there and all the more beautiful for it. She illuminates the chilled terror, the hysteria felt whenever caught in that space between awareness and oblivion. "I can't feel the thrill. I don't have the will."

"I Love You Golden Blue" sounds so precious, so fragile. The introductory instrumental feels like a shroud but when it's finally lifted there's just even greater mystery shimmering underneath.

"I don't glitter like the stars above. I don't glow like neon alone. Don't blush. It's just the wind outside. Don't rush to be by my side." 

"Golden Blue" is the second in a so-called "trilogy" of Kim epics that were either the ultimate or penultimate tracks of three of Sonic Youth's last four albums, the others being "Sympathy for the Strawberry" from Murray Street, and "Massage the History" from The Eternal.  "Strawberry" is the only one to miss this list, but I love it, believe me, all red and white and leafy green, just dying to land in some sugar.

17.  "Beauty Lies in the Eye"
APPEARED ON:  Sister (1987)

Over calming acoustic strums and scattered lion yawns, Kim captures the echoes of passionate abandon as they ricochet off the walls and recreates them in her divine image.

"Do you want to see the explosions in my eye?"  I'm already hearing them just fine, but…sure.  Why not?

Kim's other stand-out turn on Sister is "Pacific Coast Highway."  Problem with that song for me nowadays, when the band brought it back live in the early part of this century, Kim busted out a trumpet for some decidedly non-marching band heroics during the Beach Boy breakdown.  I keep waiting for that on the record, and it's not there!  Aw man.  You know else isn't there?  The drums.  Poor Steve!  Wait a second, he just played drums on an early contender for album of the year, poor Steve nothin'.

16.  "Cross the Breeze"
APPEARED ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)

Heroes are disposable and promises are broken records, made to warp over time.  There are many methods one can use to soothe the savage beast…music is the just the most popular one.  You can never chase the demon off, though.  It's as much a part of us as our tongues.  

Hearing both "The Sprawl" and "Cross the Breeze" back-to-back at certain latterly SY gigs (including the Daydream Nation concert in Brooklyn, 2007) was like a fangirl dream come true.  So much time spent cursing my fate in being born too late, and they go and play the whole friggin' thing front to back.  Some shows I couldn't stop moving…other shows I seemed to forget how.  "The Sprawl" lives up to its title a little too much, though; "Cross the Breeze" measures out the moods expertly.  Hence, my decision.

15.  "Stereo Sanctity"
APPEARED ON:  Sister (1987)

Oh hi Thurston!  I didn't forget you.  You got the magic, most tall one, and great taste in sci-fi lit.  Reason #23 To Adore Sonic Youth:  one of 'em'll read a book, hear a song, see a film or a painting that makes 'em write a song, that in turn makes someone else write a song, read a book, shoot a film, splash a canvas, etc.  Gold connections.

For lifting from Philip K. Dick, using the word "field," and rocking sans any discernible remorse, "Stereo Sanctity" takes the crown over "Catholic Block," which hits the red just as strongly, but oh man does Catholic guilt kill my girl-chubby.  Thurston's not even explicit in that regard, but it doesn't matter, not one whit, man.  Spending your refractory period in sullen contemplation of whether or not your recent orgasm has doomed your soul is the opposite of "sexy."

14.  "Hey Joni"
APPEARED ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)

And look here, it's Mr. Lee!  

Of the three songs on Daydream Nation featuring Lee Ranaldo on the mic, three of them kick ass.  This one, most fabulously.  Is it about Joni Mitchell?  The '70s cop flick Mitchell, starring international sex symbol Joe Don Baker?  "Hey Joe"?  "Hey Bulldog"?  Heroin?  Is it heroin?!

You wanna solve mysteries, go find Encyclopedia Brown and tell him Sally owes me money.  "Hey Joni" is both a devastatingly beautiful renunciation of nostalgia and a word-sick embrace of the here and now.  My favorite line in the song is, all of them.  

Moreso than his bandmates, Lee loves to use his songs to reflect on the meaningful fragments people leave behind of themselves.  The line between stranger and friend is thin as floss, filaments tensed and loosened at an almost-unnerving rate.  Some folks detach themselves and watch the process impassively, while there's some who just can't help but jump into the fray, frothing hearts and minds, seeking kindred spirits--even if just for a little while.    Even in "Eric's Trip," which borrows dialogue from Warhol's Chelsea Girls, Lee makes it sound like he's reciting original lyrics, like this dude Eric is his high school buddy or something.  Fooled me, dude!  "Eric's Trip" is super-beloved by the fanbase as well, and I like it just fine.  I've seen it live about, uh, 900 times.  It's all about the Drifter, dude, can't forget Thurston bustin' out that rode-hard-put-away-harder Drifter.  Drumstick delirium.  But no moment in "Eric's Trip" approaches, even tenuously, Lee's putting the motherfucking "Hey!" in "Hey Joni."  

13.  "Sweet Shine"
APPEARS ON:  Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star

Really thought this would stay in the top ten, but hey, I gotta rank 'em honest.

Another one that's hard on the heart nowanights.  I'm likely off by several paces in all directions, but "Sweet Shine" played to me like Kim's reflection on her (then) decade-long marriage to the world's tallest 12-year-old.  I broke it down on the old list, and I'm sure it was exhilarating for me to write all that out at the time and pull at my brain like so much soda-flavored taffy, but considering revisiting all of that exhausts me.  

Do not let your babies grow up to be cowboys, is all I'll say.  

Alongside "JC" and "Massage the History," "Sweet Shine" is part of the what I call my "tearful triumvirate" of Sonic Youth tunes.  Each of them can get my eyes to well up at least, and more than once they've been responsible for some embarrassing full-out bawling.  Kim's voice is far from delicate and soaring, but where other female singers phonate at a level that wins competitions and tops charts, she's doing what she must in order to serve the soul of the song.  Too many vocalists aim for the skies; Kim knows the truest target is much closer to the middle.

She hits a little lower than that on "Skink," a lullaby about having sex by an aquarium.  Lotsa blue, lotsa green, lotsa vision gone black to blue, and oh God I hope neither of them kicks the aquarium.  Freedom will kill the fish, you know.

12.  "Rain on Tin"
APPEARS ON:  Murray Street (2002)

Never shall the rot set in, "Rain On Tin" will endure for the ages.  A kind, thoughtful reflection on fragility in the wake of September 11, 2001, Thurston's lyrical economy is surpassed only by the medicinal effect of what comes after, when the last word vanishes into the polluted air and the music begins its loom work.  Thurston, Lee and temp worker Jim O'Rourke are not showing off; how gauche to assume otherwise.  Yes, it's all very impressive.  The three of them sound like they've been playing together for longer than two albums worth of material, that's for sure.  But how does it feel?  A stitch in the heart.  A gentle thought for harsh words. Embracing the inexorable as invaluable.  Forward motion always.

"Rain on Tin" dissolves pain.  I've needed it so much lately.  And I know, it's just a placebo.  But as far as phantom treatments go…I've never had one go further.

The next album's "Pink Steam" gets it all back-assward.  Extended instrumental intro, then lyrics.  Oh, the lyrics!  "I'm the man who loves your mother."  Well, the average woman would want that special guy in their life to feel fondness towards their mother, right?  Makes Thanksgiving much more tolerable, anyway.  But it's nothing to put in a song!

11.  "Mote"
APPEARS ON:  Goo (1990)

I played the liver-loving onions outta this song and "Titanium Expose" in the days immediately after my brother let me borrow his CD of Goo.  Lee's lyrics never float so high above the listener that we are unable to make out their distinguishing features, just one of the qualities that endears him to fans who bemoan his dark horse status in Sonic Youth.  To pull off such a feat amid a blanket of mosquitoes is another one.

The last four minutes are akin to slurping from a bottle of Makers Mark in between bouts of vomiting into the toilet you're leaning against lest you get sucked into a wormhole and die.  And yes…that is a compliment.  Wordless debauchery and paranoia for the flawless victory!  

If "Mote" is not Exhibit A in the case for Sonic Youth arranging dates between love and rackets with a proficiency matched by no other sound-makers, it's comes no later than "D."  Further down would be "NYC Ghosts and Flowers," the glaring highlight on the underwhelming album of the same name. Ten years after "Mote," Lee would put some more vagabond vandalism in front of a wailing torrent.  Although "NYC" remains stirring--again, it is far and away the best thing about the album--it lacks "Mote"'s motion and color.

Neither Elegy Nor Effigy: The 30 Greatest Sonic Youth Songs...And the 10 Worst (Part One)

Damn near a fistful of years have elapsed since my last attempt to rank my personal 30 favorite Sonic Youth songs.  Times change, tastes change--thirteen songs from that initial compilation are absent this time 'round, including three from the top ten.

To set this new list apart from the last, I've dropped the "highlight" section.  After each review of the song I chose, I've added thoughts on why I chose that track over another, similar one (often from the same album).  This hopefully illuminates my thought process and swings some shine on other songs that weren't fortunate enough to get a number in front of them.  For me personally, it elevates this entire endeavor from enjoyable to ecstatic. 

None of which should suggest this task was easy.  My initial list of songs for consideration was 64--more than double the allotted spaces.  Some genuine gems had to be excluded.   Much easier, however, was determining the ten worst songs in the SY oeuvre.  Indeed, only eleven tunes were even up for consideration. That speaks to the quality of the artistry far more than any scribe alive ever could.

But we try anyway.

30.  "Wildflower Soul"
APPEARS ON:  A Thousand Leaves (1998)

Love effects the spirit, which in turns effects the body, which naturally transfers to…the guitar?  A peculiar squall kicks off what is actually a gorgeous ballad.  Of course, Sonic Youth never forget who they are, and take care to stretch their limbs.

Thurston Moore was four years into the fatherhood thing by the time A Thousand Leaves was released, and nearly every song on said record that he voices evokes warm domesticity.  To his credit, these offerings are sweet without being cloying and palliative without inveigling the listener.  "Snare, Girl" treads much of the same plaintive pathways, but never unravels.  It's self-containment is superb, but the puffs flying in "Wildflower Soul" are an unforgettable sight.

 29.  "Flower"
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)

"Support the power of women
Use the power of man
Support the flower of women
Use the word:  fuck
The word is love"

Forget that these lyrics are courtesy of a dude, in this case, uber-dude Thurston. Kim brought them to fierce life, and that's what matters most.  You can discover Sonic Youth, order all of their records you can afford at once, and boy aren't you in for a treat, buuuut….if the FedEx fella doesn't get it to you at all, much less in a timely manner, you aren't going to enjoy the experience of holding vinyl/tape/CD in your hands, thumbing through booklets, examining visuals and aurals simultaneously.  You'll have to make do with mp3's of shady bitrate and JPEG scans of varying resolution.  

In other words…it's down to the delivery.

"Halloween," which buttresses "Flower" on the DGC reissue, is certainly a boss number.  (I mean, Mudhoney covered it.)  The woozy sensuality oozes back into the cracks quick as it came out.  "Flower"'s petals are sharp to the touch, and draw blood.

28.  "Doctor's Orders"
APPEARS ON: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994)

Half-life as so many women knew it then, and to this day.  Kim's breathless tale of mama's li'l helpmates is made twice as arresting with the lilting menace behind her blunted language, creeping studiously until finally it breaks the fifth wall (the one separating the performer from themselves) and treats the audience to the spectacle of a party of one being crashed.

Jet Set is Kim's album whether she owns up to it or not, and this isn't even her finest moment.  Neither is "Bone," which suffers in comparison simply because of structure.  "Bone" is maelstrom to blues to back again.  Perfect for Kim's bipolar delivery.  But the sustain of "Doctor's Orders" is what convinces me it's best to adhere to medical advice.

27.  "Anti-Orgasm"
APPEARS ON:  The Eternal (2009)
PREVIOUS RANKING:  Not even born back then

Inspired by a German film called The Wild Life, which featured among other scenes a hippie radical suddenly struck impotent, so immured he was with society's conspicuous over-consumption.  A friend cracks that he must be "anti-orgasm."  Now that's source material. 

Thurston, Kim and Lee singing on the same song is in fact pro-orgasm.  "But, but, 'Renegade Princess'!"  Okay, but that song doesn't send my blood rushing through my body.   Hell, it doesn't even make my blood walk a little bit faster.  "Anti-Orgasm" rocks out with everything out, and if that sentiment seems hoary, it's also true.  To bear ear-witness to such crackling urgency and insistent force coming from a band 27 years into their recorded life is equal parts inspiring and intimidating.  

Of course, the lyrics are obtuse and quotable, as hell to both.  The unison grunting could been super off-putting but thankfully SY have made the air too thick for such a misstep to occur.

All three vocalists reunite for "Poison Arrow" later on in the album (albeit only Thurston for the verses).  Another clear-cut winner amid eleven other champions, but it doesn't cause me to misplace my shit.  "Anti-Orgasm" does.  Helps me find it again as well, 'cause I'm just a loop cat, and the process makes me wanna purr.

26.  "Expressway To Yr Skull"

So not only does Rolling Stone omit Lee Ranaldo from their 100 Greatest Guitarists list, they include Thurston, and they cite "Expressway" as an example of his exemplary work!  Lee is responsible for 90% of everything that sounds interesting on that song!  The other 10% is of course that cloud-combing blow-out that the song is best known for, and maybe what the editors had in mind, but that's pretty stupid if you ask me.

Enrapturing as that torrent of noteage is, the name of the game is slide-work, and yep that's Lee during the chorus, puttin' in that time.  "We're gonna kill the California girls" is a great opener--and even greater misspelled on an official shirt--but really, the guitars are the tenacious voices in their heads telling 'em they should fuck and kill in the first place.

Fellow bookend "Tom Violence" has the sharper lyricism--arguably my favorite set of words to a Sonic Youth song, maybe I'd put "Rain King" above it, but that's it--but it's not precisely compelling (!) enough for me to forget my dreams are empty ones.  "Expressway" fills the holes to capacity.

25.  "Cinderella's Big Score"
APPEARS ON:  Goo (1990)

Thurston's behind-the-bridge action fools trolls and trolls fools.  I can hear new things or things in a new way with nearly every listen of this underappreciated mini-masterpiece.  Every element on display burns underneath the magnifying glass:  Lee's chopper blade gut, Steve the lunatic gentleman at the kit, Kim's disillusionment over and disgust at the habitual misbehaviors at someone who may or may not represent her troubled older brother (the video seems to support this interpretation), you've never seen an accusatory finger pointed so poignantly.

Kim G. voices a more positive tribute on "Tunic (Song For Karen)," a sympathy call to the late Karen Carpenter.  But however much one of the most nuanced voices of 20th century pop deserved canonization, it's almost a little too reverential, even dare I say a bit trepid.

24.  "Intro/Brave Men Run"
APPEARS ON:  Bad Moon Rising (1985)

Kicks off SY's second full-length and also signaled the start of their concert of Williamsburg Waterfront in Brooklyn last August, which may or may not have been their last North American gig/last non-festival gig/last show in New York, oh the potential designations are multitudinous.  I will from now until the day I abandon this cumbersome shell o' mine associate this song with the sight and sound of an overjoyed young man just in front of me at said show, gripping the top of the stage barrier, leaping up and down and shrieking in glee, "This is my favorite song ever!  Oh my God!"  

A song the band had not busted out in a live setting for 25 years, a song that may very well be older than that deliriously happy fan.

The "Intro" piece deserves its titular status, featuring glistening arpeggios that musta shocked fans of Confusion Is Sex and that albums dank experimentation.  In context, "Intro" marked a turning point for the band.  "Brave Men Run" continued the inaugural proceedings:  inspired by the work of an artist in another medium (the paintings of Ed Ruscha) instead of just citing the same rote influences; a simple but brilliant bass part that anyone could play but not just anyone could think up; and a hesitance to leave the playground even though the sun is setting and dinner's steaming on the kitchen table.

I don't want 'em to leave either.  Come on guys, one more game of tetherball.

Of all the songs on the cusp of inclusion for this list, the one that hurt the most to leave out was the one that ranks no. 31--"I Love Her All the Time."  They also played this one in Brooklyn, and unsurprisingly it added three years to every attendees life.  

How do you turn a hazy declaration of love hopefully everlasting into an outright apotheosis of the beloved?  "I Love Her All the Time" could be difficult to swallow nowadays, given what transpired some 26 years after its creation.  I won't fib, a few Sonic tracks are hitting me in a very bittersweet way recently…but not this one.  I think that's down to Thurston's unconventional word choices.  It's not transparently romantic to say you don't comprehend the words coming out of your lovers mouth; it's actually closer to honorific.  Imagine being with someone who has you instantly transfixed and intoxicated by dint of their presence, who can turn the world into frost and sparks by being next to you.  Such a sensation is ephemeral, but electrifying.  

23.  "The Wonder"
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)

The beginning of SY's beloved "Trilogy," I separated "The Wonder" from its siblings because, um, I play favorites.  (You can't fathom my process!)  

Shit gets mad pachyderm-y in the middle, which is when I adore it the most.  Being for the benefit of Mr. Kite's grandson, who was a squeegee man at the time.  To hear those who were actually there tell it, NYC was much dirtier, scuzzier, wilder and scarier in the late 80s, that period of time that served as a midwife for  SY and their ballyhooed baby.  "Your city is a wonder town."  And I would say, as a frequent visitor, it still is.  Stop by Otafuku if you don't believe me.

So why "The Wonder" and not the others?  Well, "Hyperstation" isn't hyper in the least bit, and "Eliminator Jr." is too fuckin' short.  Also, I respect the songs as individual entities, although I acknowledge their seamless connection on the album.  It's absolutely the same as when I eat a Mexican meal at my mom's, and I start off  with the lusciously decorated taco, go to the sublimely stuffed enchilada, make my way over to the perfectly cooked rice, and finally bite into a hot buttered tortilla.  (If you aren't hellhound hungry after reading that, that's the real wonder right there.)

22.  "Shaking Hell"
APPEARS ON:  Confusion Is Sex  (1983)

There are a handful of genuinely skin-prickling moments on Sonic Youth's first full-length but none more chilling than--"Shake!  Shake!"  I sure hope Kim Gordon isn't actually unaware of why people tend to be intimidated in her presence.  I mean other than her being bracingly intelligent and eternally stylish.  

"Shaking Hell" is either the prelude to a lust murder or a snapshot of your everyday subjugation within an ostensibly loving relationship…either way somebody needs to get the fuck outta that house.  

Kim also provides vox to "Protect Me You," a scary story that features Lee Ranaldo on the bass playing a rather Gordon-esque pattern of notes.  That song is akin to an ice cube sliding down your back.  "Shaking Hell" is the blade of a knife taking the same path.

21.  "Candle"
APPEARS ON:  Daydream Nation (1988)

Candles give light where none existed before.  They can be symbols of sober remembrance when held in one's hand, or a lovely decorative piece when in the home.  No matter where they are, or the purpose they serve, candles give light where none existed before.   The solace they provide, however, ensures their impermanence.  

Nothing on Daydream Nation is really like "Candle," so I'll use "Total Trash" as an example of how all over the place Thurston can be lyrically, and still not come off like a goddamn lunatic who uses ketchup packets to write poems on Burger King Whopper wrappers.  "Candle" is the marriage of light and mist; "Total Trash" is not that.  How you go from "Keeps me up awake/A crystal cracking" to "It's a natural fact that I'm not now cow" is amazing to me.  That's Sonic Youth.  Aptitude, attitude, and altitude.

Songs 20-11 will be up on Tuesday; 10-1 on Wednesday; and the Worst list on Thursday.