Wednesday, 9 January 2008



These are great songs, greater than the sound of their recording.  Sister was the first pre-punk broke Sonic Youth album that I clicked with.  I take this over Daydream Nation nine times out of ten.  Now if only the drums didn’t sound like they were made using a breadbin.  But apparently that sound is “warm and vintage”.

Recorded at Sear Sound in New York this was a studio long past its heyday now reduced to producing jingles and soundtracks to softcore horror movies being made by the owners.  Steve Shelley would later express dissatisfaction at the drum sound but everything else felt perfectly suited to the band and its vision at the time.  The equipment on offer (old school tube amplifiers etc) was pornography to such guitar terrorists.

There is a playing against the elements feel to this record.  The imagination reconciles its creation with inhabiting some awful areas of New York, places caked in pure grime.  This image is probably quite removed from reality but with its cut and paste artwork and a weird fascination with science there is something strangely urban and menacing about the package.  And then there is the declaration that the Sister in question is suffering from “Schizophrenia” which brings a degree of menace and mental illness along with threat and maybe even murder.

Sister is scrappy goodness.  Very lo-fi and very cheap the proof is inside the pudding.  Ugly guitars that might otherwise put off rock heads carpets crazed energy and creative abandon.

Released on SST in the U.S. their fourth studio album actually saw them move closer towards traditional song structure and away from the avant exploration of their No Wave origins.  It is a loose concept album partly inspired by Philip K. Dick, not least in being named after his fraternal twin that died shortly after her birth.  Indeed entire sentences from the man’s are subtly lifted and inserted into lyric lines.  In addition to this there is a nod to James Ellroy in the thank yous.

Excitingly Sister holds the first examples of/in Sonic Youth’s career where noise became noise pop, especially on tracks such as “White Kross” and “(I Got A) Catholic Block” which serve with charge and arrive at extraordinary hooks.

Despite the apparent change in operation there is no compromise on show.  “(I Got A) Catholic Block” is in particular a very positive example of this serving as a fizzy screamer that ends in a wicked flow of feedback going places where no one knows.

I have now briefly lost interest in reviewing this record, leaving my writing desk to rummage around on the internet.  In my movement I did not switch the record and as I attempt to escape this duty a dense, cradled distortion follows me into the other rooms of the apartment.

Elsewhere “Tuff Gnarl” offers a relatively upbeat motion with a sound that Mike Watt would later be heard describing as “bubblegum”.

The “seven at the beginning of “Stereo Sanctity” came from studio engineer Bill Titus insisting that the band announce the number of each take before a track was recorded.  The man’s old school methods would clash with their experimental sensibilities not least when he told the band that they needed to tune their instruments.

Songs such as “Pipeline/Kill Time” and “Pacific Coast Highway” offer narrative prose and horror scenarios smeared over tracks that veer from frenetic gestures to drawn out moments of sonic bridges swirling in centre sections.  The latter is particularly jarring sounding like a scratchy, unfinished “Death Valley ‘69” before drifting off in the middle flexing a counterfeit calm.

Away from the distorted blasts there are tender moments and slow motions in “Beauty Lies In The Eye” and “Kotton Krown” both of which feature Kim Gordon vocals as Thurston joins her in duet on the latter.  As “Kotton Krown” drifts off in a wave of feedback it glistens at a steady pace in a way that guitars had never sounded before.  Meanwhile the slow broken conversation of “Beauty Lies In The Eye” eventually sees Kim calling out to kool thing at the close.  That reference was always in her.

Then there is the fun cover of “Hot Wire My Heart” by Crime offered as both solidification of their punk credentials and an affection nod to originators they love.  It is actually a great song with the classic kind of hook that makes you feel you familiar the first time you hear it.

Often described as the album’s afterbirth the messy “Master-Dik” closes the record.  Starring the Royal Tuff Titty (Thurston’s rap persona) its bratty and obnoxious, the sound of a disciplined man cutting loose.  Basically it sounds like a Beck song before Beck was born.  It’s the best brash satire on cock rock an angry nation could ever want.  Eventually it ends with a sample of Gene Simmons singing “I know”.  Did he know?

Discarded and rejected album titles apparently included Sol-Fuc, Kitty Magic and Humpy Pumpy.

Listen to this loud.

Thesaurus moment: sibling.

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