Review Summary: It's just noise.
I guess the most important component of enjoying Daydream Nation
(and, as well, Sonic Youth's music in general) is whether or not you find the same sense of exhilaration that they do in danger, alienation, lust, and exploring the unexplored (and possibly disastrous). This sense of delving into potentially threatening territory defined every bit of the band's early career, from their biting sections of abrasive noise to their disaffected lyrics to their, um, sticking of screwdrivers into their own guitars. Whatever floats their boat is what you're going to have to deal with if you want to fully enjoy one of the most unanimously praised yet undeniably enigmatic bands of the endlessly fruitful underground scene. If you enjoy a little risky business in your music, well, then that's just a bonus (some detest it, such as the impregnated, pop-culture spouting Juno: "it's just noise.").
There's something else in these anthems-for-the-disturbed though, considering any sane rock purist who listened to the infamous midsection of "Silver Rocket" might come to the exact same conclusion. Most are then faced with a difficult decision: stick with either the album, or the opinion of the album. Because, whether you like it or not, one is staying and the other is going. Daydream Nation
, detested by many, is also the archetype of a "grower"; its various idiosyncrasies begin not to make sense, but to rather seem a little more natural, a byproduct of the sexy, slightly insane mindset the band are famous for holding steadfast to. Even Robert Christgau, one of the most notoriously stubborn rock critics, gave in, calling "their discordant never-let-up" a "philosophical triumph", straight after panning their earlier works.
So, what is it that Daydream Nation
contains that slowly starts to appeal to those who give it a chance? Many may try, but it's nigh impossible to put in words. For one, the album put what was endearing "college-radio" rock to so many in a comprehensive package: not only catchy, punk rock-esque riffs, but also a sense of discovery and reckless abandon, demonstrated by the band's ability to switch from a simple guitar riff to a section of spiked guitar feedback or a gradual melting pot of noises, motifs, and melodies.
Third track "The Sprawl" exemplifies this in full: the first half consists of a relatively forthright guitar hook and bassist Kim Gordon's strangely sexy, unemotional coos. However, just as an innocent listener starts wondering what all the fuss is about, the song suddenly slows into a hypnotic piece of (sigh) "art-rock", with melodies and rhythms that were introduced in the first section suddenly being flipped on their sides and repeated incessantly, with layers being added on seemingly every measure. Soon, the "normal" (guitar strums, washes of cymbals) and the "weird" (screeches, white noise) coalesce into one awesome theme for those who just don't give a ***. Suddenly, it dawns on you: this isn't just your everyday punks fooling around with their guitars. This is something much, much better.
The band perfect this precarious balance again and again on Daydream Nation
, slowing wrapping unsuspecting listeners in their irresistible grasp. Much like "The Sprawl", "Total Trash" has a total meltdown about halfway through, but instead of slowing down, the members of the band just go all-out and start banging their instruments (with precision!), creating a beautiful mess in the process (doubtful listeners, don't worry!: the song manages to get back on its feet with ample time to reprise its chorus).
Sometimes, there isn't even a melody to latch onto: "Providence", which is bound to be stamped as "filler" to some (hint: it's not), consists simply of unsettling rumbles, poorly recorded piano playing, and a phone call from Mike Watt to Thurston Moore (excerpt: "Thurston! I think it's ten thirty, we're calling from Providence, Rhode Island. Did you find your ***?"). The "***" in question is some lost band equipment that Watt suspects Thurston may have accidentally thrown out, but that's beside the point: the song is almost creepily successful in its producing of an eerie "soundscape"; you feel like anything could jump out at you at any second.
For many, Daydream Nation
is a classic. For me, it hasn't hit that point yet. I've listened to the album over and over recently, and I've still got the feeling that there's more to discover and explore. For a while, I considered holding off on a review of the album until I knew for sure that it was or wasn't a "classic" album. However, as I soon realized, the effect of the album will always be the same at any point in time. Daydream Nation
is a strikingly innovative, beautifully disaffected release, full of surprises and excitements. Give it time, and its allure will soon become all too present. Just ask Pitchfork.