It's hard not to romanticize about Sonic Youth's long, trippy career. You could easily think of them as the "godfathers of grunge," who went against the conventional song structure, but somehow, kept it there the whole time. Thurston Moore and Lee Ronaldo are the Keith Richards and Mick Taylor of indie, with their alternate-tuned guitars pushing out dissonant melodies, interlocking and twisting around each, crafting some of the most unique guitar work of their time. Their sound is easily identifiable, especially when you consider an album like Daydream Nation
, which followed in the wake of the fairly 'small' Sister
. Indeed, Sister
was a precurser to the huge, anthemic sound of it's follower. Sister
is like falling into a large thorn bush, with dozens of rabid bunnies tearing your flesh off simultaneously, but you could care less, because you've got a lollipop. Oh, that sweet, sugary lollipop.
is a nihilistic, distorted, noisy record. There's absolutely no doubt about it. The guitars spike through the mix like a rusty knife, creating some cacophony of melodic noise. The overall tone of the album is extremely warm, due to the fact that (smart) people still used analog tape in 1987. Right, so you know it's nosiy. It's Sonic Youth, for God's sake. Mixed in with all this "damn noise!" are heavy doses of liquid, chorused, melody. Songs like "Schizophrenia" and "Beauty Lies in the Eye" are eerie, beautiful pieces of music. Both songs are enveloped in waves of melody and harmony, and show the ideal that 'noise' can be coupled with melody to form something magnificent. Other songs, like "Tuff Gnarl," the industrial-esque "Pacific Coast Highway," or the slow, droning "Cotton Crown" are schizophrenic in their approach. The songs teater back and forth, eventually falling off into a pit of noise, or melody. On "Tuff Gnarl" especially, Sonic Youth provides one of their most hair-raising songs, with melodic bass and guitar lines, covered over in a blanket of fuzz. "Master-Dik" provides a somewhat 'different' ending to the album. The song features Thurston 'rapping', with spiralling, chaotic noise. Kiss samples are repeated over and over, and add a sort of, cynical, feel, I guess you could say. Think The Smiths anti-ending "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others," done Sonic Youth-style. And a lot funnier.
So, like, gag me with a spoon! Sister
is up there as one of the best Sonic Youth albums. The record itself feels very dark, and you can easily feel it brooding, constantly. I guess you could say that Sonic Youth let it all out on Daydream Nation
, and that Sister
was just the volcano's base stretching. All of the songs here are class, and I can't find anything wrong with them. They represent what Sonic Youth do best, that being artfully, and cleverly combining noise and the 'avant-garde' and somewhat-conventional song structures and melodies. "There's something in the air, that makes you go insane", Kim Gordon sings, and that's what Sister
is, well.. kind of.
A Side Note: Sister is partly inspired by the life and works of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (the "sister" of the title was Dick's fraternal twin, who died shortly after her birth, and whose memory haunted Dick his entire life).
If You're Feeling Sinister...
"Pacific Coast Higway"