Thursday, December 31, 2009

Daydream Nation

With the release of 1988's 'Daydream Nation', erstwhile avant-garde rock pioneers Sonic Youth finally and decisively consolidated their credentials as elder statesmen of alternative rock. While previous efforts like 1986's 'Evol' and 1987's 'Sister' were commendable exercises in melding leftfield songcraft with the band's noise-terror approach, 'Daydream Nation' successfully corrals the past sonic aggressiveness into a more streamlined sensibility. This new archetype made for a better, more realised vision of Sonic Youth's artistry, in which the unorthodox, the primal, and the poppishness coalesce into a single innovative totality.

The boldly defiant anti-anthem 'Teenage Riot' sounds as riveting as ever, while 'Providence' is rightfully hazy in its shifting fever-dream musicality. 'Eliminator Jr.' is an exercise in controlled cacophony, and 'Hyperstation' is almost skeletal in its short, controlled bursts of staccato guitar chords.

Elsewhere, 'Total Trash' is a piece of low-key, mildly threatening white noise, while 'Silver Rocket' kicks out the jam with its punky demeanour. The cascading 'Eric's Trip' practically rolls with waves of feedback, and the terrifying 'Cross the Breeze' revels in a venomous arrangement that borders on speed-metal. The group also indulged in a bit of social commentary here, skewering Hollywood shallowness on 'Kissability' and lampooning American consumer culture on 'The Sprawl'. The most accessible instance on the album comes in the form of the relatively 'normal' rocker' 'Candle', which bears the immortal lyric "Wind is whipping through my stupid mop".

In short, the overall disposition of 'Daydream Nation' is nothing short of stunning, and perfectly illustrates how well performance-art aesthetics can be seamlessly embodied within fairly conventional rock structures. Even though Sonic Youth would go on to achieve greater commercial heights in the 1990s and beyond, this album still represents the band at the height of their powers, and still sounds remarkably cohesive, well-rounded and self-assured, more than twenty years after it was first put out. Aficionados of classic alt-rock can do no wrong by investing in this confirmed genre tour de force.


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