Sonic Youth’s first album, Sonic Youth
was released in 1982, just a few months after they had formed. “It’s almost shocking how mature this album is”, notes Byron Coley, in his liner notes. Looking at the front cover, it’s not hard to agree. It depicts the four members of Sonic Youth: Thurston Moore, Lee Ronaldo, Kim Gordan and Richard Edson. Kim looks like she’s straight out of art college, with her huge glasses and hair that seems to be cut with a knife and fork, Thurston looks about fourteen. Richard Edson isn’t wearing the baseball cap that Kim encouraged him to wear, and Lee looks about, uh, thirty. But that’s the youngest I’ve ever seen him.
In some ways, it isn’t shocking how mature this album is. One such reason is the bands they had previously been in. Most notably was Glenn Branca’s guitar ensemble, with Lee, Thurston, and Richard appearing in it at least once. But I digress, no matter how shocking it is, this album kicks as[i]I[i]s. In an arty, interesting, unmistakeably Sonic Youth kinda way. This album is unlike any other, but remains distinctly them. The dual guitars screw around with typical Sonic Youth style dissonance, guitar assaults lurk around every corner, especially in the live bonus tracks. With rarely any effects used, they manage to create almost shocking amounts of noise, they chime, twang and repetitively onslaught chords. Kim’s minimalist bass stlye bass is oddly high in the mix, it propels the songs forward, gives them structure, and melds the songs firmly together. It’s the focal point of many of the songs, and allows the guitars to reign freely. The drumming is mainly simplistic, and draws from Edson’s dance roots. Sonic Youth
is also notable for Moore’s attempts to sing, which he soon abandoned, and instead opted for a monotonous droning until their 1986 album E.V.O.L
The opener “The Burning Spear” is song that shows their utmost creativity, it begins seemingly structureless, with an avant-dance/ post-punk drum beat appearing, atonal guitar, until Kim’s bass emerges. Her huge, loose, sound is heavily Reggae inspired, particularly on this track, and it welds the song together. Suddenly a white noise roaring static erupts, and is apparently created by Lee running a mechanic drill through a wah-wah pedal. Hmm, interesting. As Byron Coley notes, (he notes many things) on “I Don’t Want To Push It” everyone seems to be pushing it as hard as they possibly can. A tribal drum beat sets the tone, and a energetic two note bass line follows. Supposedly, this is directly inspired by seminal Krautrockers Can, and Moore’s vocals are his best impression of Damo Suzuki. I can kinda see it. “I Dreamed I Dream” is the only song on the original album to feature Kim on vocals, which is a shame. Her rhythmical talking is a times, breathtaking, and here she sings self-referential lyrics, while Moore’s vocals overlap and float above. For “The Good And The Bad”, Kim and Thurston swap instruments, and he plays a rocking bass line, while Kim dissonates with Lee. (Everybody love to verb words.)
The bonus tracks are an entire live set from before the album, with a few other songs, and different names. In fact, the only different songs are “Cosmopolitan Girl” and “Destroyer”, the rest just have other names. The guitars are particularly prominent on these live songs, and are they are generally more energetic. A “lost song”, “Destroyer” is one such, the guitars spike throughout, and occasionally use harmonics. “Cosmopolitan Girl” is the only song that Kim sings alone. She bellows incomprehensible lyrics about something, or other. Or something. And that’s all I have to say about that.
The record label Neutral was created to release this album. Or long EP. It is, if nothing else, an interesting record to listen to, for histories’ sake. But it’s more than that, in fact, it remains one of Sonic Youth’s greatest records. And that’s all. But I jest.
“The point is, beauty and noise and love and eternity. In one little package. What more could you ask for"”—Byron Coley, Liner notes.