Sonic Youth
EVOL


4.0
excellent

Review

by Adam Downer STAFF
October 1st, 2007 | 59 replies | 8,934 views


Release Date: 1986 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Sonic Youth's fourth album hints at the genius they'd show in their next three albums and ride out the rest of their career with. It's not entirely developed in some parts, but there's enough texture, melody, and smarts in here to make it an excellent alb

"My Violence is a Dream, a Real Dream."

Thus begins EVOL, the fourth album from now highly esteemed alternative outfit Sonic Youth, and a more fitting first lyric could not be sung. EVOL is a slick half hour plus of dreamy textures, droning noise, and twisted, violent lyrics that create a tight fourth album for the Youth. The most melodic album of their career at this point, EVOL oozes with the potential Sonic Youth would fulfill with their landmark classics Sister and Daydream Nation that capped off their 80's discography a couple years later. Looking back from now at the young Sonic Youth, not too much has changed in the grand scheme of things. Thurston Moore still sounds 16 years old, Kim Gordon still sounds deranged to the point of inaccessible, and Lee Ranaldo, who recites his first rhymeless, tuneless vocal poem on EVOL, is still fricken cool. This is a testament to the Youth's longevity; twenty years later, they still sound edgy, but not enough to stop enough people from buying their albums. They are able to bridge the gap between melody and dissonance seamlessly, and that point of accessibility keeps their fans coming. It wasn't always that way though. EVOL shows the band transitioning from the more tuneless debut trio of albums to the more lets-not-say-poppy albums of their later career. The result is a sleek, dreamy album that rivals Sister and maybe even Daydream Nation.

Perhaps a good way to describe EVOL is that it sounds like the soundtrack to a psychological nightmare. Throughout the album the lyrical themes detail some horrible dream, and the music backs it up. Each and every note and guitar jangle comes with a feedback and an essence of fuzz, creating a similar sense to walking through quicksand: instead of being the comfort of concrete, it's different, soft, creepy. The opener, "Tom Violence", finds Thurston marching to percussionist Steve Shelley's slave-driving snare hits while crying "My violence is a dream a 'real dream'/ a skinny arm, a crush on living sin/ my violence is a sleeping head, nodding out to rising bliss" with a mixture of apathy and deformity, setting the tone for the rest of the album, vocally and musically. There's a swell in the middle of "Tom Violence's" already menacing tone, and it appears as though all hell is set to break loose, but the band retracts into another verse, as though they didn't have the energy to unleash the chaos they have. Sonic Youth do this several times on the album, and this actually works in EVOL's favor: You know something amazing and terrible is coming, you just don't know when.

This sense of dread stays consistent throughout the album. The band will swell and lash out every so often, only to bring it back to restore security. Occasionally the Youth will draw it back so far seemingly just to relax and implement a false sense of safety, such as on Kim's lullaby from purgatory "Secret Girls". Introduced by the limping trudge of what sounds like some horrible villain, the aesthetic abruptly switches to the innocence of a toy piano in an attic somewhere. It's sweet and eerie at the same time, hypnotizing to the point of complacency. Thus, when the hideous screaming that preludes "Marilyn Moore" comes, it's chilling, how stark the contrast is. A good 4/5's of the album insists upon playing this contrast to form a wild yet still cohesive selection of songs. Ranaldo's first solo song, "In the Kingdom #19", is by far the most intense piece of music EVOL offers, with Lee chanting without rhythm or rhyme, only desperation, the details of some horrible story, mocking his protagonist while Thurston, Shelley, and Kim make mayhem behind him. Ronaldo reads hideous phrases like "Glistening highway mirage groans the slick surface, careening into first the small mammal, and then screeching along the guard rail, scraping paint and throwing sparks like sheets of pure terror for 400 yards over and over..." as though he were dictating a thesis paper on some mind-numbing subject. The fact that he's vividly describing an explosive auto crash with such boredom and maybe even a little admiration ("The beautiful paintjob hopelessly marred/ smoke and flames. Alright. So nice.") is unnerving, to say the least. But as with most of EVOL, Sonic Youth contrasts this track by setting it between two of the more poppy tracks of the album, "Star Power" and Green Light".

There's a curious amount of such poppier tracks on EVOL, perhaps to highlight the difference between the atmospherics that Sonic Youth do so well, or maybe to keep EVOL from getting too damn serious. The point is, not all of them work. The Youth are known to mock pop music from time to time (read: Ciccone Youth), and they do so hilariously and excellently at times on EVOL. Late album barnburner "Expressway to Yr. Skull" is one of Sonic Youth's finest tracks, albeit one of the most minimalistic. Kim rides one bass note for the song chunk of "Expressway", and lets Thurston and Lee create more soundscape-like music as oppose to their usual drones. Shelley rides a jovial beat, and everything seems ready for a single, including one of Thurston's catchiest vocal lines this side of Teenage Riot. Thurston opens with an enthusiastic, deadpan "We're gonna kill the California Girls" and sets off an album highlight. After a few minutes of prodding, Thurston whines the main lyric "Mystery Train, Three Way Plane. Expressway... To Your Skull!", and all hell breaks loose. An explosion of drum rolls, doomish bass and guitar destruction creates the climax that EVOL has been hinting at all album. The destruction is long, passionate, and seemingly final, with a good 3 minutes of static and fuzz riding out the rest of the track. But yet, with such a serious and final ending, Sonic Youth end EVOL with the ridiculously anti-climactic "Bubblegum", the "Some Girls are Bigger than Others" of the Youth's career. "Bubblegum" is one of two let downs in EVOL that prevent it from being a real classic, the other being "Star Power", and the placement of both songs are what cause it. "Star Power" destroys the Nightmare on Elm Street feel of the first two tracks, and "Bubblegum" is just an out of place oddity. Neither track is truly bad outside of context, but in terms of the flow that is EVOL, they're just big rocks.

So in the end, EVOL never really delivers the smash-bang ending it looks like it's going for. But that's not a bad thing. It leaves the listener feeling like he/she's just gone through a pitch black tunnel, and maybe something moved in the distance, but nothing jumped out. The point is, it's safe, but it's still a task to go through it again. As a Sonic Youth album, EVOL is as strong as Sister technically, but it lacks the flow of the latter. It doesn't quite match Daydream Nation, the album all Sonic Youth albums are judged against, but they're two different entities. With EVOL, Sonic Youth went for a feel, and achieved it to near perfection. The textures are murky, the feel uneasy, and when they sure as hell know how to use dynamics to their advantage. Every crescendo and abrupt diminishing of sound is powerful, and even when they maintain the same volume, they can still make it acute. In the end you could say it's a lot like every other Sonic Youth album. The Kim tracks are abrasive, the tunings and dissonance are epic, and Lee Ranaldo still looks like he's 40. But there's something that sets EVOL apart from the other Sonic Youth albums, you just have to be ready for it.

Recommended Tracks

Tom Violence
In the Kingdom #19
Expressway to Yr. Skull




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user ratings (525)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
DhA (5)
Whilst not as "defining" as Daydream Nation or as obviously accessible as "Goo" or "Dirty", EVOL fin...

something vague (4.5)
...


Comments:Add a Comment 
The Jungler
October 1st 2007



4827 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Despite the fact that the latter totally blows away the former, I like the idea of the album ending on Bubblegum (which is a CD bonus track and a cover, if that explains anything) rather than Expressway. Kim Gordon's "Hit it girls" is this album's equivalents of Lee Ranaldo's "Kick It!" on Daydream Nation. This Message Edited On 10.01.07

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2007



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

^Thanks for the info, and I figured it was a cover, though I don't know by who. Still, I don't like the song.

Digging: Nmesh - Dream Sequins® [AMDISCS]

Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


have you ever reviewed something that hasnt been done before

also a 4 is a wrong rating please change it to 5

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2007



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Why do you review albums twice? (See: Sister).

And yes I've done a couple albums that havent been done before.This Message Edited On 10.01.07

Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


because the earlier was inadequate!

MrKite
October 1st 2007



5020 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

a 4 is a wrong rating please change it to 5

This Message Edited On 10.01.07

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2007



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

But I don't think it's a five....

Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


Ah, I see the rating has not been changed!

You will be penalized under the Sputnikmusic-Eliminator Pact, Article 18B, pg. 11.

MrKite
October 1st 2007



5020 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

But I don't think it's a five....

Deep down everybody thinks this is a five.

I guess I'll read the review despite the rating.This Message Edited On 10.01.07

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2007



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

You will be penalized under the Sputnikmusic-Eliminator Pact, Article 18B, pg. 11.


Which reads?This Message Edited On 10.01.07

Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


"Any user(s) who state an opinion contradictory to Eliminator's Law shall be penalized to the full extent; removal of false opinion or a permanent banning, in the most serious of cases.

MrKite
October 1st 2007



5020 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Is this "most serious"?

Pretty good review too. Made me want to listen to this again.

Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


Oh yes, this is beyond most serious! A Sonic Youth album defiled with a FOUR rating?!

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2007



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

But... But... You gave Dirty a 2.5....

Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


DO NOT QUESTION THE INFINITE KNOWLEDGE OF ELIMINATOR

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2007



16071 Comments


I agree with him.

Digging: Trophy Scars - Holy Vacants

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
October 1st 2007



15693 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Me or Eliminator?

Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


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Doppelganger
October 1st 2007



3124 Comments


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Yyy
October 1st 2007



289 Comments


Your enthusiasm for Eliminator is greatly appreciated by Him.



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