I've been thinking about it for what seems like a long while now, and my memories all seem like a blur compared to my clear thoughts right now. But, nonetheless, my seconds, minutes, hours, and possibly days spent in laundry facilities are recognizeable nuances in the this always expanding story of my life. I learned to accept the sights, smells, tastes, textures, and most importantly -- sounds -- of my forced visitations. Creeking, swirling, booms and bangs, the humming of constant chatter, old men reading newspapers, whatever. It's all one large entity, the result of my imagination. Or is it? I seem to be able to remember it well enough, especially the days spent looking at automobile magazines and watching Pauly Shore movies on that old television suspended from the wall. The thing is, I'll never know if those 'familiar' laundry facilities actually existed now that my state of mind has shifted over years spent in the rolling hills and seasonal beauty of southeastern Ohio. For all I know, the last four years of my insignificant life could be a figment of my own nonexistant imagination, or perhaps the thought process of some unknown manipulative force beyond comprehension. Whatever is true, those years will always remain worn on my sleeve, as an album that changed caused that gradual shift in thought process (assuming that the childhood torture-manifestations never existed and that the last half-a-decade of my life has been picturesque).
That album, of course, is Sonic Youth's Washing Machine
. After several days of exploring a sibling's room for new and uncharted musical territory, as my ears were virgins to sonic love at that time, I came upon this vaguely familiar album cover. Two fans standing there with bold, blue, and signed shirts. Then it all came back; those memories of that one guy in Chicago who always wore Black Flag or Sonic Youth shirts and would come over to our house and watch television with my brother. He smoked. I thought he was about as cool as possible, and he was pretty nice. The site of the album invoked a newfound sense of nostalgia inside me, and I immediately took it out of it's case and inserted it into a cd player as I sat and observed the music I was hearing. And really, the only thing that could describe that experience is 'bliss'. I didn't quite understand it at that point, but it was my companion for a few weeks (one of those instances involved going out for a Chrismtas tree, as I rode in the back of the truck listening in awe at the dissonance and strange noises made. That tree wasn't even good.
Everything that you have read so far is a true story, and I wish to convey my feelings for Washing Machine
even more, most likely through analyzing more so than life-stories. Like those familiar laundry facilities of my past, Washing Machine
is a collection of familiar and
unfamiliar sounds. When you finally learn to accept it, Washing Machine
becomes one of those pieces that you could cherish for the rest of your life and never really tire of. Thurston Moore, Lee Ranoldo, and Kim Gordon are the patron saints of indie-rock guitar (Kim plays guitar for most of the songs, though she normall plays bass). While they impliment alternate tunings and other foreign ideas to rock music, they also know that when the time is right, melody is the that one focal point that makes everything come together. Thurston and Lee's chemistry is undeniable, whether it be through their wonderful interplay or their knack for odd melodies and harmonies, and several songs serve as trophy cases for their virtuosity.
, despite Sonic Youth's past tendencies to lean towards much more dissonant and noise-laden song structures, is one of their most obviously melodic and well thought-out collection of songs to date. Distorded and raw guitar playing is turned in for clean, chorused melodic passages and harmonic chiming that, when the two (sometimes three) guitarists play at once, fuses together to form an ethereal wave of sounds. "Becuz" and "Junkie's Promise", the introductory tracks, are confusing in that they serve as a misleading start to an album devoid of their 'rocking-out' aesthetics. "Junkie's Promise", sliding in with an ear piercing feedback burst, has been rumored to be based on Kurt Cobain's recent death and his apparent heroin addiction. Thurston has always denied it, but when you hear him snarl out lines like "Did sayyou say "I can't escape myself"? / But you did, so there's no one else to blame". Sonic Youth had never sounded so blunt before, and when it's coupled with razorblade distortion, it stings.
"Waching Machine" breaks the record as the longest Sonic Youth (which in turn was exceeded seven songs later), serving as the title track of the album. Kim takes the microphone in her typical spoken-word monologues. Though at first it starts out as a mild rocker with Kim sneering and grunting, it fades into a droning, medium-paced passage with Kim speaking softly overtop, of walking down the street, love, and of a God that is a woman ("It was a woman's face / and she threw a quarter down at me / and she said "Honey, here's a quarter. Go put it in a washing machine"). It runs at a solid 8 minutes, but the song never grows to be repetitive or boring, another one of those sonic lover's strongest points when it comes to songwriting and musical abilities. "Unwind" is a breezy semi-ballad where Thurston and Lee's guitar interplay becomes fully apparent, in all of it's harmonious beauty. It is reserve, quiet, and a song that you actually can unwind to. Thurston and Lee also sing together, giving the vocals an ethereal touch that they otherwise would not have, carefully singing lines such as "Lay down your lucky hand upon her heart / Morning becomes a kite tangled up in stars". Sometimes it seems like it is just a love song, and sometimes I feel as if it is about Thurston and Kim's daughter, who was quite young at the time (they are married). This is followd by the gorgeous Phil Spector throwback "Little Trouble Girl", where backup singers, along with Kim Gordon, sing/speak of the mother/daughter relationships and love ("If you want me to / I will be the one / That is always good / And you'll love me too / but you'll never / What I feel inside / That I'm really bad / Little trouble girl"), in ballad form with beautiful guitar playing and breezy drums, which Steve Shelley has perfected on this particular album, allowing the band much more space to allow the notes to breathe. The greatest Kim Gordon performance yet.
The love buzz is abruptly ended by the horrific two-some of "No Queen Blues" and "Panty Lies". While the former is listenable due to the excellent guitar work, "Panty Lies" is one of the worst songs that Sonic Youth have ever recorded. While the clean-dissonance is as good as any other instance, Kim then proceeds to completely ruin the few seconds of innocence. She barks, shouts, growls, sneers, and it just really isn't a pleasant experience after witnessing such heart wrenching suites such as "Little Trouble Girl". It interrupts the nearly perfect flow of the album, at least for the time being. "Untitled" is a drifting instrumental piece, the coda to "Becuz", but cut off due to accessability issue with Geffen/DGC. It is very similar to their improvisational series of EPs later in the decade, with it's majestic drone continuing for only a brief timeframe in the context of the rest of the album.
ends on what could only be called some of the most euphoric, epic, and majestic music that I have ever heard. "Skip Tracer" is a sarcastic stab at early '90s culture, written by Lee after witnessing a concert that was similar. Lee sings with a calm tone, but you know that he is just 'this' close to going completely insane, though he never actually does. The music pushes the song forward with manic arpeggios underneath Lee's witty social commentary ("The guitar guy played real cool feedback and supersounding riffs"), until the song gradually builds up to a climax where the band is going full force with Lee insistantly shouting "Hello, 2015!". And then, my friends, is the ending to end all closing track, "The Diamond Sea". It, like many of the songs here, is a gorgeous semi-ballad, full-on epic about well.. love. Thurston sings in his most earnest tone, calmly anunciating every psychadelic syllable that he can, while the melodic guitar accompaniment backs it. "The Diamond Sea" goes through every aspect of emotion that I can think of: love, sadness, anger, calm, etc. This is all represented, I believe, by certain sections of the song, whether it be trippy droning, or some of most frightening noises every produced by just guitars. I can't explain the trance-like state that it puts me in. Listen to it at night with headphones pressed hard against your ears, and then you may know what I am going on about. It's obviously one of Sonic Youth's greatest studio accomplishments, and runs the length of 19 minutes (the single was edited down to 5, but the B-side also contained a 25 minute version).
It may not be another EVOl
, or Daydream Nation
, but one thing that I can so with the utmost confidence is that Washing Machine
ranks as one of the greatest albums of the '90s. Not only does it show Sonic Youth's willingness to broaden their horizons and explore new territory, but it also shows that they know when they make mistakes (Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star
) and they certainly know that when they do, they will always have a new direction that has been unexplored. Whether a certain song is beautiful or chaotic doesn't really matter at this point. What truly matters is the universally understandable messages that Washing Machine
conveys, albeit in a modern and urban-based manner.