A Sonic Youth b-sides and rarities album would seem to be a curious proposition for anyone besides the well initiated and most adventurous among us. Not a conventional rock n roll band by any standard, this highly influential Alt/Indie group has spent the better part of 25 years churning out tunes that range from experimental to noise pop to alternative jams, and "music" that can often only be described as dissonant and weird. With occasional stabs at the mainstream (for Sonic Youth, at least) that left long time fans crying foul while not gaining them any new ones, its been a long road for this now middle aged group of noise makers. Call it art rock, indie, or simply a band playing music for musicians, it can't be denied that the 'Youth's brand of guitar driven, feedback laden, sometimes incoherent doodling has led to countless bands picking up where the noise leaves off and carrying the whole thing forward to places Sonic Youth would never care go, or even consider. And "The Destroyed Room" is typical Sonic Youth fare as it is comprised of previously released, hard to find, and little heard material from the past decade or so. Interesting, yes. Compelling in places, sure. 100% Sonic Youth, you betcha'.
If you are familiar with Sonic Youth you know they are no stranger to the instrumental. As in no vocals, instrumental pieces. And that's what pretty much makes up this entire album. We get the 10 minute alt rock epic "Fire Engine Dream" to start things off that features lots of twisted indie rock leanings with its tinkling, distorted guitars and bass heavy rthymn, the broken beat start/stop styling's of "Fauxhemiens", again carried forward by the bass of Kim Gordan while guitarist Thurston Moore lays down some interesting improvised guitar work, the electronic sizzle of "Campfire" (yes, it literally sounds like a guitar/synthesizer frying in some high tech pan), and the lovely, subdued, almost new age like "Loop Cat", all ambient doodling and far off droning. Sure, in between all this lofty music making their is the 1 minute acoustic blues of "Razor Blade" to consider featuring Gordon on wispy vocals, and the minimalist "Blink", again with Gordan lending dreamy vocal work. But the latter passes so quick you hardly even notice it and the former features talk/sung vocals that sound as if they are coming from down some distant hallway, adding to the instrumental tone of the entire album.
If the album has a singular strength its the fact that it all sounds very uniform, the pieces practically intertwining with one another as one track moves to the next. This is for all intents and purposes is a mellow
Sonic Youth album, almost "indie ambient" if I can use that phrase. The closest we come to a conventional rock track is the diverse and varied "Kim's Chords" that features a typical 4/4 beat and some neat guitar work by Moore, and the very beginning of the closing track "The Diamond Sea" that for the first 10 minutes of this 26 minute song (yes, i said 26
minutes) sounds like any other alt rock song of the past ten years. Then it goes all Sonic Youth on us for the last 16 minutes with wall of sound guitar distortion, feedback, ambient noise, looped drums, and a rising and falling musical style that is interesting at best and just a bit too self indulgent for its own lengthy good at its core.
Whether or not "interesting" music makes for interesting or entertaining listening I suppose is up to the listener. This is soulless music that somehow has soul in spite of itself, organized noise that somehow comes together to make a cohesive whole, broken bits and pieces that when all put together makes a very clear picture that is less puzzle and more like a little shambling masterpiece. If you look closely at this albums cover you can see
what this album sounds like. Carefully disorganized, everything a mess yet somehow in its place. Deconstruction with a purpose and a method to its madness, its as if to say "we meant to do this". And its done so well however messy and trashed, its hard to complain as it somehow makes perfect sense. The more you look, the more you listen, the more you look, the more you listen. And the more it all falls into place. Sonic Youth have made a small legendary career out of making small musical messes that have somehow reached the level of small masterpieces, and this album of odds and ends is no different. It seeps into the psyche in bits and pieces and comes out the other end whole. Interesting, to be sure. Anything more will be found wherever you allow the music to take you and your imagination.