HIP PRIESTESS

1 note

I should do The Wedding Present’s albums at some point too…since the reissues appear to be back on, I’ll wait til they arrive.

4 notes

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3a of 15(ish) - Made In USA
OK, so this is kind-of in order but it’s a good story, quickly told. The producers of a mid-budget film were using “EVOL” as a “temp track” and, particularly enamoured with “Secret Girl”, invited the group to provide the soundtrack proper. The rough cut, described by Moore in the sleeve notes as a “politically pointed road movie” interested the group sufficiently and the challenge was accepted. Eventually, the film was recut to become more of a teen movie and the majority of SY’s soundtrack, according to Moore, hit the cutting room floor too. In 1994, with Kim Gordon on maternity leave, the soundtrack was remixed and released. Well, sort of. This was tough to find in the UK; indeed, my copy is a cut-out(!) sourced from a second-hand mail order list around the turn of the century…
The overall sound is a bit warbly in places, so perhaps the film producers didn’t take especially good care of the tapes. In fact, one wonders if the cassette fidelity of the opening track might be a cover-up job. There’s an open-road rock feel to some of the pieces (a harmonica is pressed into service on “Rim Thrusters”!) that’s strikingly traditional but, on the other paw, “Secret Girl” appears exactly as it does on “EVOL“. In fact, the tapes of “Secret Girl” also form about 70% of  “O.J.‘s Glove Or What?“, 90%  of “The Velvet Plug“ and as good as 100% of “Tulip Fire 2” which adds a little extra trainspotter value. The album is, inevitably, almost all instrumental; Moore sings on “Tuck N Dar“ but it isn’t exactly a lost classic. The gentler, more reflective tracks are the most successful; the quiet harmonics of “Moon In The Bathroom”, “Thought Bubbles” and “Smoke Blisters” recall “Shadow Of A Doubt” and it’s a sound SY can really make sparkle, transforming their music into a night sky punctured with stars, halogens and distant fires. The titles, by the way, appear to have been added for the purposes of the album release (“O.J.‘s Glove…“ being the giveaway) and reveal nothing about the content - there are several recurring themes and the titles do nothing to reveal this; for example, “Lincoln’s Gout” and “Coughing Up Tweed” are alternate performances of exactly the same theme. 
Inevitably, a series of miniatures like this will have its frustrations - it’s tantalising to think what some of these seeds could have been grown into but the recurring themes and the unfussy sound make this a good listen as well as an insight into how the group were developing from ”EVOL” into “Sister” and its easy to see why they were keen to rescue this from movie development hell.
Rating - 6.5/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3a of 15(ish) - Made In USA

OK, so this is kind-of in order but it’s a good story, quickly told. The producers of a mid-budget film were using “EVOL” as a “temp track” and, particularly enamoured with “Secret Girl”, invited the group to provide the soundtrack proper. The rough cut, described by Moore in the sleeve notes as a “politically pointed road movie” interested the group sufficiently and the challenge was accepted. Eventually, the film was recut to become more of a teen movie and the majority of SY’s soundtrack, according to Moore, hit the cutting room floor too. In 1994, with Kim Gordon on maternity leave, the soundtrack was remixed and released. Well, sort of. This was tough to find in the UK; indeed, my copy is a cut-out(!) sourced from a second-hand mail order list around the turn of the century…

The overall sound is a bit warbly in places, so perhaps the film producers didn’t take especially good care of the tapes. In fact, one wonders if the cassette fidelity of the opening track might be a cover-up job. There’s an open-road rock feel to some of the pieces (a harmonica is pressed into service on “Rim Thrusters”!) that’s strikingly traditional but, on the other paw, “Secret Girl” appears exactly as it does on “EVOL“. In fact, the tapes of “Secret Girl” also form about 70% of  “O.J.‘s Glove Or What?“, 90%  of “The Velvet Plug“ and as good as 100% of “Tulip Fire 2” which adds a little extra trainspotter value. The album is, inevitably, almost all instrumental; Moore sings on “Tuck N Dar“ but it isn’t exactly a lost classic. The gentler, more reflective tracks are the most successful; the quiet harmonics of “Moon In The Bathroom”, “Thought Bubbles” and “Smoke Blisters” recall “Shadow Of A Doubt” and it’s a sound SY can really make sparkle, transforming their music into a night sky punctured with stars, halogens and distant fires. The titles, by the way, appear to have been added for the purposes of the album release (“O.J.‘s Glove…“ being the giveaway) and reveal nothing about the content - there are several recurring themes and the titles do nothing to reveal this; for example, “Lincoln’s Gout” and “Coughing Up Tweed” are alternate performances of exactly the same theme. 

Inevitably, a series of miniatures like this will have its frustrations - it’s tantalising to think what some of these seeds could have been grown into but the recurring themes and the unfussy sound make this a good listen as well as an insight into how the group were developing from ”EVOL” into “Sister” and its easy to see why they were keen to rescue this from movie development hell.

Rating - 6.5/10

Filed under sonic youth made in usa thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley

3 notes

Meant to post this - remember when (1) £13.99 was a reasonable price for a new release CD and (2) that was a doozy of an offer?
No wonder it all went wrong for the music industry, eh?

Meant to post this - remember when (1) £13.99 was a reasonable price for a new release CD and (2) that was a doozy of an offer?

No wonder it all went wrong for the music industry, eh?

10 notes

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3 of 15(ish) - EVOL
“EVOL” is understandably considered pivotal in the Sonic Youth catalogue, mainly due being the first album to feature the best known 4-piece line-up with Steve Shelley arriving on drums. Wikipedia also tells us that “EVOL” is the album where the group are “transitioning away from their no wave past and toward a greater alternative rock sensibility”. Hmm. Certainly, opening song “Tom Violence” reminds one of nothing more than “The Figurehead” by The Cure (from “Pornography”) albeit minus the attritional density. Built on an attractive, spacious chord sequence and sung high and confidently by Moore, it’s an arresting start, made all the more so by a swift, unexpected collapse into a mire of hiss and static from which the guitars have to fight their way back. As if keen to prove that they were not reliant on dissonance to create tension and atmosphere, they follow with “Shadow Of A Doubt”, a bed of carefully plucked harmonics rendering a whispered Kim Gordon vocal particularly vivid. The track’s explosion is sudden and unexpected and, 2 songs in, the group’s belief in themselves and their material is palpable and rightly so. “Starpower”, issued as a single, hits hard, a robust performance of an ear-catching riff with enough patented guitar abuse to stay on the right side of ordinary.
After such a strong opening trio, things dip a little with “In The Kingdom #19”. Whilst it inaugurates what would prove to be a highly fruitful line of enquiry, it doesn’t quite hit the spot itself, hampered by a weak mix and a speculative (semi-improvised?) group performance but Ranaldo’s recitation is delicious and it certainly shows that SY had not sliced off their experimental roots. However, it feels standalone and would maybe have been better served as one side of a seven inch or somesuch. “Green Light” is too consciously discordant and doesn’t have enough to tell us to make it work - it feels like a step backwards from the opening salvo. However, instrumental “Death To Our Freinds” (sic) restores some direction, an enthusiastic showcase for the meshed-guitars that were already becoming their trademark. “Secret Girl” is a most unusual piece for tape, piano, customised guitar and Kim Gordon that feels supremely creepy after the relative jauntiness of “DTOF” while “Marilyn Moore” takes us over the hill and into the darkness with an almost Eastern feel. The album closes with seven minutes of “Expressway To Yr Skull”, here titled “Madonna, Sean and Me” for some reason. It’s basically a one-chord trick, albeit one exquisitely decorated and handled with particular care, especially by Shelley who controls both the tempo and the volume changes that give the song its dynamic. It slowly degenerates into a blur of distant ghostly rattling guitars that sound like primitive wind-chimes. 
It’s an uneven record but, yes, the beginnings of what would make them truly great are pretty much all here; there are memorable riffs, the distinct personalities of the three vocalists are forming and an understanding of how they would come to truly harness and control their chaos dawns across the later stages of the album too. Maybe “EVOL” is transitional after all, the sound of a happy, confident group who have finally settled their line-up and, even though it doesn’t always work, it’s an album that crackles with excitement and possibility. At this remove, that’s plenty.
Rating 7/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 3 of 15(ish) - EVOL

“EVOL” is understandably considered pivotal in the Sonic Youth catalogue, mainly due being the first album to feature the best known 4-piece line-up with Steve Shelley arriving on drums. Wikipedia also tells us that “EVOL” is the album where the group are “transitioning away from their no wave past and toward a greater alternative rock sensibility”. Hmm. Certainly, opening song “Tom Violence” reminds one of nothing more than “The Figurehead” by The Cure (from “Pornography”) albeit minus the attritional density. Built on an attractive, spacious chord sequence and sung high and confidently by Moore, it’s an arresting start, made all the more so by a swift, unexpected collapse into a mire of hiss and static from which the guitars have to fight their way back. As if keen to prove that they were not reliant on dissonance to create tension and atmosphere, they follow with “Shadow Of A Doubt”, a bed of carefully plucked harmonics rendering a whispered Kim Gordon vocal particularly vivid. The track’s explosion is sudden and unexpected and, 2 songs in, the group’s belief in themselves and their material is palpable and rightly so. “Starpower”, issued as a single, hits hard, a robust performance of an ear-catching riff with enough patented guitar abuse to stay on the right side of ordinary.

After such a strong opening trio, things dip a little with “In The Kingdom #19”. Whilst it inaugurates what would prove to be a highly fruitful line of enquiry, it doesn’t quite hit the spot itself, hampered by a weak mix and a speculative (semi-improvised?) group performance but Ranaldo’s recitation is delicious and it certainly shows that SY had not sliced off their experimental roots. However, it feels standalone and would maybe have been better served as one side of a seven inch or somesuch. “Green Light” is too consciously discordant and doesn’t have enough to tell us to make it work - it feels like a step backwards from the opening salvo. However, instrumental “Death To Our Freinds” (sic) restores some direction, an enthusiastic showcase for the meshed-guitars that were already becoming their trademark. “Secret Girl” is a most unusual piece for tape, piano, customised guitar and Kim Gordon that feels supremely creepy after the relative jauntiness of “DTOF” while “Marilyn Moore” takes us over the hill and into the darkness with an almost Eastern feel. The album closes with seven minutes of “Expressway To Yr Skull”, here titled “Madonna, Sean and Me” for some reason. It’s basically a one-chord trick, albeit one exquisitely decorated and handled with particular care, especially by Shelley who controls both the tempo and the volume changes that give the song its dynamic. It slowly degenerates into a blur of distant ghostly rattling guitars that sound like primitive wind-chimes. 

It’s an uneven record but, yes, the beginnings of what would make them truly great are pretty much all here; there are memorable riffs, the distinct personalities of the three vocalists are forming and an understanding of how they would come to truly harness and control their chaos dawns across the later stages of the album too. Maybe “EVOL” is transitional after all, the sound of a happy, confident group who have finally settled their line-up and, even though it doesn’t always work, it’s an album that crackles with excitement and possibility. At this remove, that’s plenty.

Rating 7/10

Filed under sonic youth thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley EVOL

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Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2b of 15(ish) - “Boston-NYC 1994” by Gate
So, straight away, let’s ‘fess up - Gate is not a Sonic Youth side project. It is, in fact, the work of Michael Morley, most commonly found as a member of Dunedin’s finest, The Dead C. He is the group’s guitarist, sometime vocalist and occasional laptop operator and explores a similar low-to-mid-fi furrow as a solo artist. His albums can be frustratingly hard to acquire - his discography is littered with ultra-limited lathe-cut records and a trio of albums released on the US label Majora are now costly on the collector scum market. However, two albums made for Table Of The Elements - “The Dew Line” and “The Monolake” - are easier to find and are highly recommended as an entry point into his amorphous soundworld (the former is available as an excellent expanded 2LP set from the “MIE Music” label) . Anyway, in 1994, he played a handful of shows in the US, and this disc captures parts from 2 of these. In NYC, he was joined by electric harpist Zeena Parkins and in both Boston and NYC, by Lee Ranaldo, putting this disc within my remit.
The Boston gig is presented as a single 30 minute track and, immediately, it’s not for those who desire things like structure and melody. Very much a free improvised noise piece, their guitars work well together, Morley’s hazy NZ fuzz blurring with Ranaldo’s more agitated NY strum and blare. After 5 minutes or so, the duo begin to work with loops,  twirling away both in the foreground and in the distance and the piece becomes darker, more unsettling. Whilst it’s clear that they’re listening to each other and responding sympathetically, it’s still hard to get a proper foothold on such jagged, ever-shifting terrain; whatever the listening equivalent of surfing might be, it is required to enjoy this deep, dynamic performance. The CD is kind enough to programme a minute of silence after they’ve finished, a generous but telling move.
The NYC gig is represented in 6 fragments, coming to a little under 20 minutes in total. The first is much more melodic with Parkins (presumably) picking out a plaintive refrain while the boys generate a gathering stormcloud of heat behind her. Said cloud eventually envelops Parkins and we find ourselves in similar territory to the Boston recording. Elsewhere, the fragments drift in and out, concentrated blasts of noise and static that require a certain generosity from the listener to succeed. 
I don’t think this disc gives a particularly strong account of any of the three players. As much as some of the peaks here are ecstatic bursts of pure sound, the lack of structure - something which is certainly not inevitable in improvised music - tires the ear. A “nice item”, beautifully presented in a silkscreen fold-over card sleeve but one that pales against contemporaneous work by all three participants. 
Rating - 5/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2b of 15(ish) - “Boston-NYC 1994” by Gate

So, straight away, let’s ‘fess up - Gate is not a Sonic Youth side project. It is, in fact, the work of Michael Morley, most commonly found as a member of Dunedin’s finest, The Dead C. He is the group’s guitarist, sometime vocalist and occasional laptop operator and explores a similar low-to-mid-fi furrow as a solo artist. His albums can be frustratingly hard to acquire - his discography is littered with ultra-limited lathe-cut records and a trio of albums released on the US label Majora are now costly on the collector scum market. However, two albums made for Table Of The Elements - “The Dew Line” and “The Monolake” - are easier to find and are highly recommended as an entry point into his amorphous soundworld (the former is available as an excellent expanded 2LP set from the “MIE Music” label) . Anyway, in 1994, he played a handful of shows in the US, and this disc captures parts from 2 of these. In NYC, he was joined by electric harpist Zeena Parkins and in both Boston and NYC, by Lee Ranaldo, putting this disc within my remit.

The Boston gig is presented as a single 30 minute track and, immediately, it’s not for those who desire things like structure and melody. Very much a free improvised noise piece, their guitars work well together, Morley’s hazy NZ fuzz blurring with Ranaldo’s more agitated NY strum and blare. After 5 minutes or so, the duo begin to work with loops,  twirling away both in the foreground and in the distance and the piece becomes darker, more unsettling. Whilst it’s clear that they’re listening to each other and responding sympathetically, it’s still hard to get a proper foothold on such jagged, ever-shifting terrain; whatever the listening equivalent of surfing might be, it is required to enjoy this deep, dynamic performance. The CD is kind enough to programme a minute of silence after they’ve finished, a generous but telling move.

The NYC gig is represented in 6 fragments, coming to a little under 20 minutes in total. The first is much more melodic with Parkins (presumably) picking out a plaintive refrain while the boys generate a gathering stormcloud of heat behind her. Said cloud eventually envelops Parkins and we find ourselves in similar territory to the Boston recording. Elsewhere, the fragments drift in and out, concentrated blasts of noise and static that require a certain generosity from the listener to succeed. 

I don’t think this disc gives a particularly strong account of any of the three players. As much as some of the peaks here are ecstatic bursts of pure sound, the lack of structure - something which is certainly not inevitable in improvised music - tires the ear. A “nice item”, beautifully presented in a silkscreen fold-over card sleeve but one that pales against contemporaneous work by all three participants. 

Rating - 5/10

Filed under gate michael morley lee ranaldo zeena parkins

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Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2a of 15(ish) - SYR1 - “Anagrama”
(note - the first 3 SYR releases don’t appear to have formal titles but are usually referred to by the name of the first track on each.)
SYR1 was the first product of the group’s new recording and releasing arrangements. After the extensive “Washing Machine” tour, the group decided to set up their own studio, Echo Canyon, on Murray Street in New York. The group were now free to record release-standard material whenever they pleased and at no cost other than the tape and, in the present case, the time of producer/engineer Wharton Tiers. This development surely suited Geffen too, as they no longer had to consider the impact of a studio bill on the group’s dwindling sales or pretend to be interested in their free-flowing jams, readily allowing them to issue these on their own independent label. 
On these sessions, the group were, once again, exploring a largely bass-free sound with Gordon again playing mostly guitar, as she did on “Washing Machine”. The result is a very open sound and SYR1 presents that sound at its most nascent, before anything has had the chance to be turned into a “song”. Not that final track “Mieux: De Corrosion” had much chance of this happening to it, being an almost industrial collision of backwards loops, static, extreme stereo panning, noise and a cymbal that sounds like someone just blew up a cutlery factory. But I’m running ahead…
First up is “Anagrama” which arrives in medias res with a quick power chord and some feedback before quickly quietening itself down to some delicate chiming guitars backed by a tick-tocking drum machine. If nothing else, any fears that the group were going to use their new imprint to scour our eardrums are allayed. It’s an attractive, distinctive sound but it also bears the hallmarks of being improvised insofar as it goes exactly nowhere but does so beautifully. Shelley takes over from his electronic substitute at about 3m49s and, within a few bars, the energy levels have noticeably lifted. Although Shelley will secede to the machinery before the track ends, there is no real development in the track - the lack of an arrangement or even a modulation rendering “Anagrama” as a good, well-recorded jam rather than a great track. “Improvisation Ajoutée” feels like an unnecessary coda to “Anagrama”, probably due to it being in the same key and opening with more drum machine but “Tremens” has more to recommend it, a woozy, seasick slow-jam with an almost dub feel (typical of SY to get dubby when the bass is languishing in its case, unopened, unloved…) although again, it fails to develop and seems to be swiftly cut just when someone gets bored with it and starts to act up a little.
When a release is declared “for fans only”, it usually means it’s rubbish but rubbish that can be somehow intellectualised; the difference between “a valuable insight into how the group craft and arrange their work, captured at its most embryonic stage” and “an unfinished outtake” isn’t really in the ear of the beholder but in the heart. “SYR1” certainly isn‘t rubbish but it is unquestionably of limited interest to anyone without an advanced interest in how SY operate as a unit. “SYR1” serves as an ideal introduction to the kind of material the group would reserve for this imprint and, as such, gives fair warning to all.
Rating - 6/10
 

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2a of 15(ish) - SYR1 - “Anagrama”

(note - the first 3 SYR releases don’t appear to have formal titles but are usually referred to by the name of the first track on each.)

SYR1 was the first product of the group’s new recording and releasing arrangements. After the extensive “Washing Machine” tour, the group decided to set up their own studio, Echo Canyon, on Murray Street in New York. The group were now free to record release-standard material whenever they pleased and at no cost other than the tape and, in the present case, the time of producer/engineer Wharton Tiers. This development surely suited Geffen too, as they no longer had to consider the impact of a studio bill on the group’s dwindling sales or pretend to be interested in their free-flowing jams, readily allowing them to issue these on their own independent label. 

On these sessions, the group were, once again, exploring a largely bass-free sound with Gordon again playing mostly guitar, as she did on “Washing Machine”. The result is a very open sound and SYR1 presents that sound at its most nascent, before anything has had the chance to be turned into a “song”. Not that final track “Mieux: De Corrosion” had much chance of this happening to it, being an almost industrial collision of backwards loops, static, extreme stereo panning, noise and a cymbal that sounds like someone just blew up a cutlery factory. But I’m running ahead…

First up is “Anagrama” which arrives in medias res with a quick power chord and some feedback before quickly quietening itself down to some delicate chiming guitars backed by a tick-tocking drum machine. If nothing else, any fears that the group were going to use their new imprint to scour our eardrums are allayed. It’s an attractive, distinctive sound but it also bears the hallmarks of being improvised insofar as it goes exactly nowhere but does so beautifully. Shelley takes over from his electronic substitute at about 3m49s and, within a few bars, the energy levels have noticeably lifted. Although Shelley will secede to the machinery before the track ends, there is no real development in the track - the lack of an arrangement or even a modulation rendering “Anagrama” as a good, well-recorded jam rather than a great track. “Improvisation Ajoutée” feels like an unnecessary coda to “Anagrama”, probably due to it being in the same key and opening with more drum machine but “Tremens” has more to recommend it, a woozy, seasick slow-jam with an almost dub feel (typical of SY to get dubby when the bass is languishing in its case, unopened, unloved…) although again, it fails to develop and seems to be swiftly cut just when someone gets bored with it and starts to act up a little.

When a release is declared “for fans only”, it usually means it’s rubbish but rubbish that can be somehow intellectualised; the difference between “a valuable insight into how the group craft and arrange their work, captured at its most embryonic stage” and “an unfinished outtake” isn’t really in the ear of the beholder but in the heart. “SYR1” certainly isn‘t rubbish but it is unquestionably of limited interest to anyone without an advanced interest in how SY operate as a unit. “SYR1” serves as an ideal introduction to the kind of material the group would reserve for this imprint and, as such, gives fair warning to all.

Rating - 6/10

 

Filed under sonic youth steve shelley lee ranaldo kim gordon thurston moore syr

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Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2 of 15(ish) - Murray Street
After the general drubbing received by “NYC Ghosts And Flowers”, “Murray Street” was, my memory tells me, given a near rapturous reception. It is one of two albums featuring the five-piece line-up that added Jim O’Rourke on bass (mostly) to the core quartet. A guest on “NYCG&F” and also SYR 3, O’Rourke engineered and mixed the group’s recordings during his tenure, working mostly at the group‘s own Echo Canyon studio. With just 7 songs in its 45 minutes, “Murray Street” is the sound of an invigorated group stretching their legs. 

It starts well with “The Empty Page”, one of 4 Thurston Moore songs and one delivered with a gentle but excited restraint that means that the track’s eventual explosion - delayed until 2m12s - has a genuine impact. This is followed by the maudlin, keening “Disconnection Notice”, Moore’s best contribution to the album. An open, unfussy mix gives a welcome and effective clarity to the group interplay - rather than being a ruse to add to an overall cacophony, Sonic Youth clearly enjoyed the room to move that having an extra person gave them and the guitars flow freely around the saddened melody with Moore‘s voice cracking and breaking in the blissful sadness. Beautiful. Unfortunately, “Rain On Tin” doesn’t quite keep this up; largely instrumental, an overly repetitious arrangement means that the track prolongs itself too far and the eventual climax is too long delayed, something a slightly muddy mix does nothing to alleviate. 

A perfect time, therefore, for SY to unleash their not-so-secret weapon. Step forward Lee Ranaldo with “Karen Revisited” which is not just the best song on the album but one of Ranaldo’s finest contributions to Sonic Youth‘s oeuvre. O’Rourke keeps the vocal a little too low but otherwise, everything is in its right place -  the high notes chime, the low notes hum with purpose and Ranaldo’s flowing, expressive chord-sequence is matched to a superb, impressionistic character-sketch which he delivers with grace. The whole band seem to truly pitch for “Karen Revisited” and the song soars high on a tremendous group performance. It is married to a lengthy coda dominated by heavily delayed, almost ambient guitars and the arrangement and dynamic of this section feels like O’Rourke’s carpentry - that a reworked section of tape that went into this section was eventually released on its own (as “Loop Cat”) makes the exact extent to which O’Rourke - an incredibly skilled tape editor - actively shaped some of this music worth considering (in this regard, scholars may want to hear Faust‘s “Rien“ album [Table Of The Elements, 1994] allegedly constructed by O‘Rourke from unpromising material; 10-or-15 minutes of bass/drums jamming by the two Faust members, a couple of live tapes and the odd guest spot. One would never know this from the finished record). One can hear faint applause at the end so presumably a live performance of some sort went into the brew. And what a brew it is, absolute proof that SY were still capable of producing some of their best work, over 20 years after their formation.

Moore then provides a patented blast out with “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style”, enlisting Borbetomagus to provide wild sax noises (remind me to tell you about the Borb gig I saw in Glasgow in the late 90’s sometime…). The mix is, again, very restrained but, unlike “Rain On Tin”, they get the length, tone and pitch of this one absolutely right.  Kim Gordon’s “Plastic Sun” is a little too wilfully angular for my tastes but her “Sympathy For The Strawberry” - the album’s closer - is a delight, a triumphant slow march back into home territory with intercrossing vocal lines and a slow rise into a pink stormcloud of gentle fuzz. It is, somehow, everything Sonic Youth do well whilst not really sounding like anything else in their catalogue. An ever-shifting thing, the song is well- guided through its various stages by some robust, unshowy drums and, at points, held organ chords. It is exactly the kind of perfectly controlled group interplay for which they were so often loved and admired and its 9 minutes pass in a flash. 

It’s a difficult album to summarise. If you make a 7 song album, all 7 really need to tell and 2 of them don’t. But the remaining 5 are up there with their very best work so it would have to be considered necessary. Given the volume of non-group work the various members were generating by this time, this album is proof that Sonic Youth were still enjoying being Sonic Youth and, more to the point,  still enjoying finding new shapes and new forms. Quite right too.

Rating 8.5/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 2 of 15(ish) - Murray Street

After the general drubbing received by “NYC Ghosts And Flowers”, “Murray Street” was, my memory tells me, given a near rapturous reception. It is one of two albums featuring the five-piece line-up that added Jim O’Rourke on bass (mostly) to the core quartet. A guest on “NYCG&F” and also SYR 3, O’Rourke engineered and mixed the group’s recordings during his tenure, working mostly at the group‘s own Echo Canyon studio. With just 7 songs in its 45 minutes, “Murray Street” is the sound of an invigorated group stretching their legs. 

It starts well with “The Empty Page”, one of 4 Thurston Moore songs and one delivered with a gentle but excited restraint that means that the track’s eventual explosion - delayed until 2m12s - has a genuine impact. This is followed by the maudlin, keening “Disconnection Notice”, Moore’s best contribution to the album. An open, unfussy mix gives a welcome and effective clarity to the group interplay - rather than being a ruse to add to an overall cacophony, Sonic Youth clearly enjoyed the room to move that having an extra person gave them and the guitars flow freely around the saddened melody with Moore‘s voice cracking and breaking in the blissful sadness. Beautiful. Unfortunately, “Rain On Tin” doesn’t quite keep this up; largely instrumental, an overly repetitious arrangement means that the track prolongs itself too far and the eventual climax is too long delayed, something a slightly muddy mix does nothing to alleviate. 

A perfect time, therefore, for SY to unleash their not-so-secret weapon. Step forward Lee Ranaldo with “Karen Revisited” which is not just the best song on the album but one of Ranaldo’s finest contributions to Sonic Youth‘s oeuvre. O’Rourke keeps the vocal a little too low but otherwise, everything is in its right place -  the high notes chime, the low notes hum with purpose and Ranaldo’s flowing, expressive chord-sequence is matched to a superb, impressionistic character-sketch which he delivers with grace. The whole band seem to truly pitch for “Karen Revisited” and the song soars high on a tremendous group performance. It is married to a lengthy coda dominated by heavily delayed, almost ambient guitars and the arrangement and dynamic of this section feels like O’Rourke’s carpentry - that a reworked section of tape that went into this section was eventually released on its own (as “Loop Cat”) makes the exact extent to which O’Rourke - an incredibly skilled tape editor - actively shaped some of this music worth considering (in this regard, scholars may want to hear Faust‘s “Rien“ album [Table Of The Elements, 1994] allegedly constructed by O‘Rourke from unpromising material; 10-or-15 minutes of bass/drums jamming by the two Faust members, a couple of live tapes and the odd guest spot. One would never know this from the finished record). One can hear faint applause at the end so presumably a live performance of some sort went into the brew. And what a brew it is, absolute proof that SY were still capable of producing some of their best work, over 20 years after their formation.

Moore then provides a patented blast out with “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style”, enlisting Borbetomagus to provide wild sax noises (remind me to tell you about the Borb gig I saw in Glasgow in the late 90’s sometime…). The mix is, again, very restrained but, unlike “Rain On Tin”, they get the length, tone and pitch of this one absolutely right.  Kim Gordon’s “Plastic Sun” is a little too wilfully angular for my tastes but her “Sympathy For The Strawberry” - the album’s closer - is a delight, a triumphant slow march back into home territory with intercrossing vocal lines and a slow rise into a pink stormcloud of gentle fuzz. It is, somehow, everything Sonic Youth do well whilst not really sounding like anything else in their catalogue. An ever-shifting thing, the song is well- guided through its various stages by some robust, unshowy drums and, at points, held organ chords. It is exactly the kind of perfectly controlled group interplay for which they were so often loved and admired and its 9 minutes pass in a flash. 

It’s a difficult album to summarise. If you make a 7 song album, all 7 really need to tell and 2 of them don’t. But the remaining 5 are up there with their very best work so it would have to be considered necessary. Given the volume of non-group work the various members were generating by this time, this album is proof that Sonic Youth were still enjoying being Sonic Youth and, more to the point,  still enjoying finding new shapes and new forms. Quite right too.

Rating 8.5/10

Filed under sonic youth murray street thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley jim o'rourke

2 notes

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 1a of 15(ish) - “The Whitey Album” by Ciccone Youth
Scanning the booklet of the “Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love” compilation, it appears that, actually, *this* is the mysterious 7th pre-“Goo” album rather than the “Sonic Death” tape.  Briefly: Ciccone Youth was originally a one-off single split between SY and Mike Watt with SY delivering their rightly loved take on Madonna‘s “Into The Groove“. In the 90’s, Watt confirmed that “Burnin’ Up”, his fuzzed-up side of that single, was also his sole contribution to this album. The “Master-Dik” EP makes some reference to Ciccone Youth and is regarded by some as a surrogate CY release, possibly by way of excusing it. Anyway, this album was recorded cheaply as a bit of extra-curricular fun by Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo and Shelley, before “Daydream Nation” but wisely released after it. A rumour that they were going to re-record the whole of “The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”) appears to have been the source of the title. 
It hoves into view on “Needle-Gun”, a percussion piece that sounds like an ultra-primitive take on The Residents’ “Six Things To A Cycle” over which someone callously reverses a truck - no manners but what a critic. We then get a whole minute of “(silence)”, which, in a contemporaneous interview, they claimed was a sped-up recording of John Cage’s 4’ 33” - ho ho. Actually, throwing a conceptual jape in so early actually works in its favour - the bets are now firmly off and this is not a “normal“ album. “G-Force” and “Platoon II” are essentially the same piece, the former with a spoken Kim Gordon vocal and the latter without. Over deep, semi-scratched, looped rhythm tracks, heavily effected guitars echo and howl distantly; Sonic Youth In Dub basically. The effect is pretty enticing and one wonders why they never pursued this as an angle. “Hendrix Cosby” hunkers down to a proper groove and, improbably, “Macbeth” skronks and funks in equal measure but much of the album comes across as a bit, well, unfinished. But they’re in this one for fun so we get Steve reciting one of Lee’s poems, a covert snatch of Kim and a pal discussing what it would be like to manage Redd Kross and a karaoke video-booth cover of “Addicted To Love”. Aside from these obvious novelties, “The Whitey Album” is what the group sound like without the pressure of grafting their jams onto their songs and the results are as mixed as one would imagine - several of the tracks here could have paced “Daydream Nation“ or “Goo“ very nicely had they been arranged into song form - that the new hip-hopped version of “Making The Nature Scene” works so well may or may not serve to confirm this. Either way, this is the spiritual beginning of the SYR series many years before they started that imprint as a place where they could and would hang as loose as they pleased. 
More than anything else “The Whitey Album” is a relic of an era of music that has long since gone, an era where it was OK to release an album for fun, a notion killed by nervous record labels, elongated release schedules, ever-falling revenues and (sorry, but it’s true) overly-reverential audiences seeking epiphany in every note. With singles now being one-song downloads and the consequent death of the b-side, bands now have nowhere to enjoy themselves and I think that’s a sour development. The joylessness of the industry in general would have turned this release into a legal nightmare too - today, just that Madonna Xerox cover would be a lawsuit waiting to happen, despite the woman herself being fine with it - at minimum, a passing-off action from Warner Bros (well, the group did put Sire’s address as Ciccone Youth’s contact!) and that’s before we start on the samples.  
Plotted as a graph, the relationship between your love for Sonic Youth and your “need” to own this album is, unsurprisingly, a straight line at a 45 degree angle. I enjoyed revisiting it but I couldn’t tell you when I expect to play it again.
Rating - 6.5/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 1a of 15(ish) - “The Whitey Album” by Ciccone Youth

Scanning the booklet of the “Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love” compilation, it appears that, actually, *this* is the mysterious 7th pre-“Goo” album rather than the “Sonic Death” tape.  Briefly: Ciccone Youth was originally a one-off single split between SY and Mike Watt with SY delivering their rightly loved take on Madonna‘s “Into The Groove“. In the 90’s, Watt confirmed that “Burnin’ Up”, his fuzzed-up side of that single, was also his sole contribution to this album. The “Master-Dik” EP makes some reference to Ciccone Youth and is regarded by some as a surrogate CY release, possibly by way of excusing it. Anyway, this album was recorded cheaply as a bit of extra-curricular fun by Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo and Shelley, before “Daydream Nation” but wisely released after it. A rumour that they were going to re-record the whole of “The Beatles” (aka “The White Album”) appears to have been the source of the title. 

It hoves into view on “Needle-Gun”, a percussion piece that sounds like an ultra-primitive take on The Residents’ “Six Things To A Cycle” over which someone callously reverses a truck - no manners but what a critic. We then get a whole minute of “(silence)”, which, in a contemporaneous interview, they claimed was a sped-up recording of John Cage’s 4’ 33” - ho ho. Actually, throwing a conceptual jape in so early actually works in its favour - the bets are now firmly off and this is not a “normal“ album. “G-Force” and “Platoon II” are essentially the same piece, the former with a spoken Kim Gordon vocal and the latter without. Over deep, semi-scratched, looped rhythm tracks, heavily effected guitars echo and howl distantly; Sonic Youth In Dub basically. The effect is pretty enticing and one wonders why they never pursued this as an angle. “Hendrix Cosby” hunkers down to a proper groove and, improbably, “Macbeth” skronks and funks in equal measure but much of the album comes across as a bit, well, unfinished. But they’re in this one for fun so we get Steve reciting one of Lee’s poems, a covert snatch of Kim and a pal discussing what it would be like to manage Redd Kross and a karaoke video-booth cover of “Addicted To Love”. Aside from these obvious novelties, “The Whitey Album” is what the group sound like without the pressure of grafting their jams onto their songs and the results are as mixed as one would imagine - several of the tracks here could have paced “Daydream Nation“ or “Goo“ very nicely had they been arranged into song form - that the new hip-hopped version of “Making The Nature Scene” works so well may or may not serve to confirm this. Either way, this is the spiritual beginning of the SYR series many years before they started that imprint as a place where they could and would hang as loose as they pleased. 

More than anything else “The Whitey Album” is a relic of an era of music that has long since gone, an era where it was OK to release an album for fun, a notion killed by nervous record labels, elongated release schedules, ever-falling revenues and (sorry, but it’s true) overly-reverential audiences seeking epiphany in every note. With singles now being one-song downloads and the consequent death of the b-side, bands now have nowhere to enjoy themselves and I think that’s a sour development. The joylessness of the industry in general would have turned this release into a legal nightmare too - today, just that Madonna Xerox cover would be a lawsuit waiting to happen, despite the woman herself being fine with it - at minimum, a passing-off action from Warner Bros (well, the group did put Sire’s address as Ciccone Youth’s contact!) and that’s before we start on the samples.  

Plotted as a graph, the relationship between your love for Sonic Youth and your “need” to own this album is, unsurprisingly, a straight line at a 45 degree angle. I enjoyed revisiting it but I couldn’t tell you when I expect to play it again.

Rating - 6.5/10

Filed under sonic youth ciccone youth the whitey album thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley mike watt

9 notes

bubblegumcageiv:

hippriestess:

Letter from MES to Tony Friel, February 1977. Appears to have been typed on the reverse of an invoice of some sort. A quiet day down at the docks, no doubt.

Smith’s love of Philip K Dick coming out here? And where are these letters coming from anyway? Weird.

Friel posted a whole bunch of these to his website about 9-10 years ago. They were hastily removed but folks, inevitably, had already right-clicked and saved.

bubblegumcageiv:

hippriestess:

Letter from MES to Tony Friel, February 1977. Appears to have been typed on the reverse of an invoice of some sort. A quiet day down at the docks, no doubt.

Smith’s love of Philip K Dick coming out here? And where are these letters coming from anyway? Weird.

Friel posted a whole bunch of these to his website about 9-10 years ago. They were hastily removed but folks, inevitably, had already right-clicked and saved.

9 notes

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 1 of 15(ish) - Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star

No point breaking ourselves in gently, eh? Released in May 1994, “EJST&NS” is generally regarded as the runt of Sonic Youth’s major label litter. This is partly circumstantial; it is the only album the group never toured - mainly due to Kim Gordon‘s pregnancy - and only one single was released, the oddly joyless “Bull In The Heather“. This created a notion that the group were perhaps being quick to move on. The vagaries of release schedules meant that the album was released within a few weeks of Kurt Cobain’s death, adding an unintended feeling that the album‘s sparse, tersely-dispatched dryness was a deliberate retreat from the front line. It certainly represented the end of their “commercial“ peak; although well reviewed at the time and snapped up quickly by their now-impressive fanbase, the album as good as killed them as a chart act and, even in the UK, second-hand copies piled up fast. 
“EJST&NS” doesn’t completely deserve this reputation but it starts pretty badly. They might have won points at the time for the sheer surprise of SY starting an album with an acoustic number but “Winner’s Blues” is a one chord whine that outstays its welcome, a worry given that it lasts only a fraction over two minutes. “Bull In The Heather” doesn’t ignite as well as it thinks it does, being effectively an ill-tempered retread of the “Dirty Boots” rhythm with annoying electronic crackle. The songs are generally shorter here than on “Dirty” but this is not necessarily to their benefit - “Starfield Road”, just 2m15s, feels like two songs stuck together, a shopworn two-chord trick grafted to a below-par noise jam. “Bone“ suffers from the same problem, two unconnected fragments seemingly stapled together out of convenience. Halfway in, the album is dragging and one really notices the lack of a Lee Ranaldo song; rumour has it that his voice is missing from the album as his energy for the group hadn’t fully recovered from a near-departure in 1992, following arguments over his attempts to have the excellent “Genetic” included on “Dirty”.
But it’s actually far from a loss and several songs show the group stretching into the territory they would inhabit successfully on “Washing Machine” and “A Thousand Leaves”; languid, attractive, semi-improvised songforms that evolve and even bloom before your very ears. In fact, once past Moore’s awful “Androgynous Mind” - an overused descending sequence cursed to carry lyrics like “God is gay and you were right” - the second half of the album is vastly better. If one could swap “Androgynous Mind” and “Skink”,  one would never really need to bother with Side One again. Moore scores with the tight, punchy “Waist” and the playful, low-key “Toyko Eye”, whilst Gordon’s “Skink“ and “Doctor’s Orders” both slink gently through a half-light that is both menacing and seductive, a trick very few other bands can pull off with the ease and naturalness with which it comes to SY. The off-kilter feline strut of “Quest For The Cup” has panache to spare and “Sweet Shine” is a well titled conclusion, a soothing and beguiling Gordon song that reminds one of Pavement’s mellower moments, a conceivable influence given that Pavement supported SY in Europe in 1992.
With 20 years distance, it’s clear that “EJST&NS” was transitional. Having had their fun with video budgets, MTV interviews, name producers and expensive studios, the group *were* retreating in a sense. Here, they recorded to 16 track tape with the engineer they used on 1988‘s “Daydream Nation“; this must have pleased them as they would continue to use 16 track for “Washing Machine” (in fact, parts of “WM” would be recorded to 8-track). Also, Gordon as good as retired from bass duties after this - she would play mostly guitar hereafter, the group expanding to a five piece twice to accommodate Gordon’s lack of interest in the instrument. “EJST&NS” is therefore the sound of a group wriggling themselves free - constrained and struggling in the first half but flying so much more freely in the second. In this context, “Sweet Shine”’s closing refrain of “look, it’s changing colour, it’s bigger than a rose” feels especially potent.
Rating - Side One - 3/10, Side Two - 8/10

Sonic Youth’s Albums In No Order At All - No 1 of 15(ish) - Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star

No point breaking ourselves in gently, eh? Released in May 1994, “EJST&NS” is generally regarded as the runt of Sonic Youth’s major label litter. This is partly circumstantial; it is the only album the group never toured - mainly due to Kim Gordon‘s pregnancy - and only one single was released, the oddly joyless “Bull In The Heather“. This created a notion that the group were perhaps being quick to move on. The vagaries of release schedules meant that the album was released within a few weeks of Kurt Cobain’s death, adding an unintended feeling that the album‘s sparse, tersely-dispatched dryness was a deliberate retreat from the front line. It certainly represented the end of their “commercial“ peak; although well reviewed at the time and snapped up quickly by their now-impressive fanbase, the album as good as killed them as a chart act and, even in the UK, second-hand copies piled up fast. 

“EJST&NS” doesn’t completely deserve this reputation but it starts pretty badly. They might have won points at the time for the sheer surprise of SY starting an album with an acoustic number but “Winner’s Blues” is a one chord whine that outstays its welcome, a worry given that it lasts only a fraction over two minutes. “Bull In The Heather” doesn’t ignite as well as it thinks it does, being effectively an ill-tempered retread of the “Dirty Boots” rhythm with annoying electronic crackle. The songs are generally shorter here than on “Dirty” but this is not necessarily to their benefit - “Starfield Road”, just 2m15s, feels like two songs stuck together, a shopworn two-chord trick grafted to a below-par noise jam. “Bone“ suffers from the same problem, two unconnected fragments seemingly stapled together out of convenience. Halfway in, the album is dragging and one really notices the lack of a Lee Ranaldo song; rumour has it that his voice is missing from the album as his energy for the group hadn’t fully recovered from a near-departure in 1992, following arguments over his attempts to have the excellent “Genetic” included on “Dirty”.

But it’s actually far from a loss and several songs show the group stretching into the territory they would inhabit successfully on “Washing Machine” and “A Thousand Leaves”; languid, attractive, semi-improvised songforms that evolve and even bloom before your very ears. In fact, once past Moore’s awful “Androgynous Mind” - an overused descending sequence cursed to carry lyrics like “God is gay and you were right” - the second half of the album is vastly better. If one could swap “Androgynous Mind” and “Skink”,  one would never really need to bother with Side One again. Moore scores with the tight, punchy “Waist” and the playful, low-key “Toyko Eye”, whilst Gordon’s “Skink“ and “Doctor’s Orders” both slink gently through a half-light that is both menacing and seductive, a trick very few other bands can pull off with the ease and naturalness with which it comes to SY. The off-kilter feline strut of “Quest For The Cup” has panache to spare and “Sweet Shine” is a well titled conclusion, a soothing and beguiling Gordon song that reminds one of Pavement’s mellower moments, a conceivable influence given that Pavement supported SY in Europe in 1992.

With 20 years distance, it’s clear that “EJST&NS” was transitional. Having had their fun with video budgets, MTV interviews, name producers and expensive studios, the group *were* retreating in a sense. Here, they recorded to 16 track tape with the engineer they used on 1988‘s “Daydream Nation“; this must have pleased them as they would continue to use 16 track for “Washing Machine” (in fact, parts of “WM” would be recorded to 8-track). Also, Gordon as good as retired from bass duties after this - she would play mostly guitar hereafter, the group expanding to a five piece twice to accommodate Gordon’s lack of interest in the instrument. “EJST&NS” is therefore the sound of a group wriggling themselves free - constrained and struggling in the first half but flying so much more freely in the second. In this context, “Sweet Shine”’s closing refrain of “look, it’s changing colour, it’s bigger than a rose” feels especially potent.

Rating - Side One - 3/10, Side Two - 8/10

Filed under sonic youth thurston moore kim gordon lee ranaldo steve shelley experimental jet set trash and no star

9 notes

Letter from MES to Tony Friel, February 1977. Appears to have been typed on the reverse of an invoice of some sort. A quiet day down at the docks, no doubt.

Letter from MES to Tony Friel, February 1977. Appears to have been typed on the reverse of an invoice of some sort. A quiet day down at the docks, no doubt.

Filed under the fall mark e smith