Sonic Youth was one of my second introductions ‘into the weeds’ of post-punk and grunge rock. Formed in New York in 1981, they not only became one of the building blocks of the post-punk genre, they also introduced me to a new form of the genre. Most notably everyone knows about Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, the reluctant faces of the group. The album Daydream Nation (1988) is one of those classic rock albums that runs both in the mainstream and underground circles, even today.
The songs on Daydream Nation read like an experimental rock opus. They perfected the songs for this album when playing them live to feel out the improvs and how they could work into songs for a final mix. In going into their 5th studio album they decided against the editing process they were known for and created this looming piece of noise rock that still rivals what is being released today.
“Teen Age Riot” starts off the album and the moment I heard it, bam. The droning guitar sound and Thurston’s voice just mellowing out this 7 minute song that is super ambitious for an opener. Much unlike the hardcore punk influences this was the complete opposite and a welcome departure from other genre releases. It also has one of my favorite forms of music videos. From the moment the album starts you know you’re in for something more. And something you haven’t heard before.
It’s hard to take you on a trip of the entire album track by track. It takes a good month to full soak in Daydream Nation, and that’s exactly what you’ll feel living in it. “The Sprawl”, one of Kim’s songs happens to be one of the solid tracks still heavy on my rotation. The great thing about this record is that guitarist Lee Ranaldo pairs so perfectly with Moore’s insane and aggressive riffs that all four members are perfectly represented here. A rarity and a collaborative cosmic energy really.
The middle of the album has “Eric’s Trip” another standout track which eases into the middle of this journey of sweeping vocals and many improvised tracks that feel more like a band practice brought to life. “Candle”, another one of my faves is 9th on the list then bringing it to the trilogy of tracks that bring this incredible album to a close.
One of the great things about Sonic Youth is that if you’re just getting introduced to them, you’ve got lots of material to discover. Over the course of their career they released 16 studio albums, a number of b-sides and live tracks that perfectly capture the jarring times of the late 80s and early 90s music scene. A little all over the place but in a cohesive way for the new times.
Bonus: If you haven’t seen the 1992 Dave Markey documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke check it out. It chronicles life on the road in Europe on the Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. tour along with appearances by Babes in Toyland, The Ramones, and Gumball.