December 16th, 1929 was most definately a turning point in the world of science fiction. Born six weeks premature in the City of Broad Shoulders, Philip K. Dick was bound to become one of the most acclaimed - and troubled - sci-fi writers of his time. But pre-dating his literary work is the death of his twin sister Jane on January 26th of the same year. This event came to play a very dominant role in the writer's life, twisting his subconscious into a knot of paranoia, subtle schizophrenia, addiction, and a vast array of complex, often undescribable moments that plagued most of his tortured, but still fruitful life. His novels and short stories often played on the themes of mental illness, as well as many social issues similar to that of Gorge Orwell's work. But what made Philip K. Dick's work so attractive is that even the most far-out stories scarred with futuristic machines and precogs still had the Human Touch. Ironically, some of his most science-fiction like works are simultaneously his most human and realistic.
How does this tie in with Sonic Youth? Well, for one, Sister
is 43 minutes of Dick-inspired chaos. This doesn't come as a surprise, though; they are probably one of the first bands that I could think of to translate Dick's works, ideas, and life into a blend of ominous, bowel-loosening noise and eerie melodies; landscapes of beehive fuzz and hellbent vocals. Even the title itself lends a nod in the now deceased writer's driection, obviously enough. It's also a departure from 1986's EVOL
, an album that showed major progressions in Sonic Youth's sound, moving towards noise-pop bliss steeped in reverb and booming drums. But while that was all fine and dandy, Sister
is the real trailblazer in their sound; the songs here are as wonderfully dissonant and raw as any Sonic Youth collection can get, but there also traces of the other spectrum, including lush waves of reverb and clean guitars, song structure, and even a few songs that could have made it on radio (in another universe).
"Schizophrenia" validates every claim I'm making. Compiled of one of the greatest - and simplest - drum beats ever, it moves in a wave of almost-impressionistic glory, starting with a reserved chord progression and fusing into a euphoric, moving song driving by notes swarming and elastic toms. The lyrics detail an encounter with schizophrenia, coming off as a sincere observation bordering on manic depression (more so in the singing) with lines such as "She keeps coming closer saying 'I can feel it in my bones. Schizophrenia is taking me home'"
. "Beauty Lies in the Eye" comes close to the same feeling that the former song projects, but instead through spoken-word poetry and wah-drenched notes complementing the layers of droning. Kim states "There's some in the air that makes you go insane"
right off, and for the rest of Sister
, you can trust her. The almost twistedly upbeat "Tuff Gnarl" goes from twangy, fuzzed guitars to a gutteral roar of tense drums and pure noise, another song that represents both aspects of Sonic Youth's sound, at least for the duration of Sister
. It doesn't hurt to have almost nonsensical lyrics such as "He's running on a tuff gnarl in his head. He's got a fatal erection home in bed"
Da noiz is in full force throughout Sister
, though, without a single song that dissappoints except maybe the lackluster "bi
tch let's rock" cover of Crime's 1976 track "Hotwire My Heart" that is as ironic as it is noisy. These cyberpunk horrors include "Stereo Sanctity", a frantic mash-up of ear-splitting dischord and surrealist-Dick lyrics: "Your spirit is time-reversed to your body. Stereographic mix-up field on field. It started growing up the day yr. body dies. Only apparently real to irreal"
, and "Pipeline/Kill Time", one of Lee Ranaldo's best songs, featuring more frantic drumming, back-to-the-future guitar awesomeatrics, and beat-stoner poetry. "Pacific Coast Highway" goes from industrial grinding and whip cracks to liquid sensations and back 'round. (For "White Cross", see description of "Pipeline/Kill Time" plz). These tracks provide a solid counterbalance to the often serene and otherworldy-calm section of Sister
, where Sonic Youth flex their melody skillz (and certainly not for the last time cough). Cuz "Kotton Krown" is basically the ultimate dead baby lullaby, turning fuzz and drone into an odd, somewhat uncomfortable song that borders on boring thanx to it being a 5-minute drone. Thurston + Kim duet, however, is pure coolism.
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. It's also way cooler than EVOL
, they geeky little runt that couldn't grow pubes. 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.