Sonic Youth – ‘Sister’ – Round 16: Rob’s choice

sonic youth - sisterFeel free to argue that ‘Sister’ is not Sonic Youth’s real triumph preceding, as it does, their accepted masterpiece ‘Daydream Nation’. Whilst we’re at it, feel free to contend that it’s not even their real fourth album. The band themselves argue that their eponymous debut EP, which was later collected with some live bits and bobs, was their first full length, which would make ‘Sister’ their fifth. What do they know?

‘Sister’ is an unabashed triumph, even set alongside its big brother. In fact, to extend and possibly pervert the sibling analogy beyond decency, ‘Sister’ contains in its DNA almost everything that would make ‘Daydream Nation’ such a wonder, but in half the time.

Here is Thurston Moore slouching about the place sounding effortlessly, shamblingly cool, the gawky kid in class who knew all the coolest bands, on ‘Schizophrenia’ and ‘Catholic Block’. Here is Lee Ranaldo buzzing into ‘Pipeline/Killtime’, his voice skipping across the surface of his guitar as well as it ever would on ‘Eric’s Trip’, here is Kim Gordon, hooting blankly and lovably away through the hilariously unhinged ‘Pacific Coast Highway’. Here is Steve Shelley, his clattering sticks almost as distinctive as the rest of the squall around him.

Throughout the record’s 40 minutes, here is a group coalescing a sound by training their free-noise roots through lattices of discipline and control. No-one else ever made guitars, drums, voices, music sound like this and no-one has since. ‘Sister’ is Sonic Youth at their peak.

Tom Listened: I would argue, except I think I agree with you Rob. I have never owned a real copy of Daydream Nation but I did listen to it a lot whilst at university and have had periods of playing it pretty intensely since then until my car no longer had the capacity to play TDK C90s. I liked about a half of it a lot….Teenage Riot (obviously), Silver Rocket (possibly even better), Eric’s Trip, Rain King and a couple of others. But so much of DN is indulgent guitar noodling to my ears that it lessens the impact of the best songs. Sister sounded (on second listen for me, the first being about 15 years ago!) much more succinct and direct and all the better for it. It is unmistakably Sonic Youth (as Rob states their sound is totally their own) and it seemed to me to be Sonic Youth at their best.

Nick listened: Yet another record I own but have never listened to… I bought this, Daydream Nation, and Goo for a fiver each about three or four years ago and added them to my Retirement Stockpile (i.e. all the books I’ll read, DVDs I’ll watch, and records I’ll listen to when I’ve got all the time in the world). I really like Sonic Youth’s 00s material with Jim O’Rourke, plus Dirty which I remember from adolescence, but I’ve never been in love with them, and Daydream Nation (which I did listen to when I bought it) struck me, too, as being a little bloated. This was thoroughly enjoyable; it sounded like Sonic Youth, which is a sound I like!

Of course, just as we did with REM, we’ve destroyed them by choosing them for DRC. Feel free to recommend any other 80s/90s alt.rock icons you’d like to see split up or get divorced, and we’ll play them next time.

Graham Listened: Repeat after me, “I should like Sonic Youth”, “I should like Sonic Youth”,”I should like Sonic Youth”,”I should like Sonic Youth”,”I should like Sonic Youth”…..

…..but I’ve never really got it. Given the range of other things I was listening to when they emerged, they should have been right up my street. I thought another listen might help, but the problem remains. I don’t know why, I don’t find them annoying, I still don’t get anything much from them. Clearly my problem!


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