Review Summary: Noise perfection that perfectly embodies everything that underground rock can be. A classic loved far and wide by critics and fans. A true epic. Music for any occassion. Yes, it is all this and more.
It's fitting that this would be my first review. This album is not only my all-time favorite, but also the one that most influenced my taste in music and culture. It has never left my rotation since I bought it four years ago, and I can't see a day when it will. Hell, it was THE album of my senior year; I finished it at least three times a week during throughout the year. So yes, it occupies a very special place, but enough about that, on to the album itself.
The most instantly appealing aspect of Sonic Youth's music in general, and this album in particular, would have to be their melding of noise and melody. Dense gales of white screech-and-hum sit quite comfortably alongside chiming, pretty notes, harmonics and hooky leads courtesy of either guitarist. But the two-guitar style is not the familiar "rhythm and lead" relationship here. Here, our boys Thurston and Lee wring out a haze of buzzing and humming notes that underscore the leads and chimes put forth by the opposite guitarist. This haze and hook setup, grounded by solid bass and technically excellent yet off-kilter drumming, does wonders to set Daydream Nation apart from every other recording in the rock canon. The band also expands on the structures of Sister with countless overdubs and nearly subliminal sounds, processed guitar wail and subtle percussion touches throughout that make the album a different experience every time through.
The pace and writing of the album are wonderful as well, perfectly balancing outright punk songs and furious, violent passages with blurry noise soundscapes and plaintive guitar melodies that are always as surprising as they are beautiful. Each song works perfectly in a different way; some as punk songs, some as symphonies of melody and noise, others as sparse experiments or ambient/ mood pieces. On a song by song basis, here are some decent descriptions of woefully few highlights, due to my being lazy:
Teenage Riot is certainly timeless, a driving punk classic they still play in concert after 18 years. It opens with some buzzing noise wrapped around subtle guitar interplay and Kim's deadpan vocal intonation. Once the song starts to let loose and kick up the intensity, it lets the main hook of the song shine through some classic Youth riffs and never lets the energy off.
The Sprawl is one of my personal favorites on here, a tight guitar interlock with booming percussion and Kim's first (and excellent) lead vox for the album. But the true treat is the outtro, a powerfully melodic, emotive sprawl of searching guitars that wind around a great bass line and coalesce from sparser lines and riffs into a gale of blasting noise that tears the song into oblivion.
Lee's best song here might be Hey Joni, a song that makes excellent use of harmonics in the chiming riff between verses, and the utterly enthralling breakdown comes throttling in with an unexpected simultaneous guitar riff and Lee yelling "kick it!". I can't help but yell with him every time. And the most impassioned vocal on the album might be Lee's "Hey!" after the noise breakdown.
Providence is seldom overlooked in reviews like this; it's a far cry from the rest of the album, but is in no way bad. It offers a cloud of amp overheat, one part in each speaker, and some sparse piano. Mike Watt's echoing vocals on the answering machine make the subject matter seem almost solemn, though the phone message merely concerns lost *** that Thurston might have thrown away when high. (Priceless.)
Candle re-opens the album proper with a plaintive guitar line shimmering and dancing with a few bass slides. The song gets a bit more noisy for a moment, but strips the noise away again for a moment to reveal delicious guitar interplay and simple, forceful drum beats. From there, hilarious lyrics and gales of noise ensue.
Other moments on the second side stand out very clearly, like the instrumental breakdown and harrowing drumming of The Wonder and the chopping, slashing riff that drives Eliminator Jr., aptly named for ZZ Top and Dinosaur Jr. And with a final strum, we reach the end, slamming into a wall of silence so sudden, it takes a moment to resist the urge to start it all over again.
So there we have everything that music can be. Sonic Youth found here the pinnacle of rock music as art and created an epic that will stand as the best rock record of the 80s. Other bands may create great, maybe even "perfect" music. But this is perfection beyond perfection, in a category, and place, all its own.