Sonically Youthful, Still!
Some bands you discover late. But if they are really good, knowing them late doesn’t prevent you from becoming a huge fan. Like ‘The Smiths’ and ‘Morrissey’. ‘The Smiths’ released their first album in 1984 (Here’s ‘The Charming Man‘ from that LP).
And I got to hear them first in the late 1990s, long after the band had broken up and their gifted frontman, Morrissey, had gone solo.
In fact, I first listened to ‘Morrissey’ and ‘The Smiths’ almost simultaneously and long after the band had ceased to exist and Morrissey was well into his very successful solo career. So it was for ‘Sonic Youth’.
Although the band was formed in New York in 1981, I first heard them in the late 1990s, when someone handed me a tape of ‘Daydream Nation‘ (released in 1988 but heard by me nearly a decade later).
One reason for such a huge time-lag was the lack of access to music du jour in the pre-Internet days. Living in India, you got only music by bands that were best-sellers and those that made sense for record companies to launch in India.
Indie bands or music released by independent labels, like Neutral Records, which released Sonic Youth’s first few albums or Enigma Records, which released their ‘Daydream Nation’ album, was well nigh impossible to get sitting here.
Incidentally, ‘Daydream Nation’ was considered a landmark album of the 1980s and is often cited as one that heralded a new era of post-punk underground rock.
What I instantly liked about ‘Sonic Youth’ was their avant-garde style that flirted with free-form experimentation as much with punk-inspired yet very arty compositions. One characteristic of their sound was their unconventional way of tuning their guitars. Legend has it that the ‘Sonic Youth’ have used screwdrivers and drumsticks to “prepare” their guitars.
Whether that’s true or not, their sound is remarkably unique and when you hear some of today’s groups you can see the influence this band has had. At the core of ‘Sonic Youth’ are Thurston Moore, who plays guitar and sings, and his wife Kim Gordon, singer and bassist. The best part is that Moore (he turned 51 yesterday) and Gordon (56) have kept their band together despite several other personnel changes and, I was glad to learn, released a new album, Sonic Youth’s sixteenth, The Eternal, last month.
Unlike my introduction to the band, which came years after they released their first album, I was able to lay my hands on the new album almost as soon as it was out. That’s the difference the Internet has made to my life!
If you still haven’t heard ‘Sonic Youth’, I suggest you head over to emusic or some other online music store for The Eternal’s digital copy (or even flash your credit card over the web and get a physical copy from Amazon).
If you’re a ‘Sonic Youth’ fan, then I guess you’ve heard the album. Few bands are as consistent as they’ve been over a nearly 30-year run. And that’s evident from the very first track, ‘Sacred Trickster‘, onward. Every song on ‘The Eternal’ is a blast. Even after decades of being around, their sound hasn’t suffered. Neither has their edgy attitude. If at all, on ‘The Eternal’, Sonic Youth sound more polished and that really makes them better.
Then, early this month I got hold of a free (and entirely legal) hour-and-a-half-long concert by that the band played recently in Washington DC at the 9.30 Club, which is a small and intimate venue, and you can sense that when you hear the concert. I think you can still download the show here if you so desire. The setlist has several songs from ‘The Eternal’ and that will give you a feel of the new album.
The thing about ‘Sonic Youth’ is that unlike many other bands that try to stretch their longevity by doing the same thing that they did many years ago—and thereby ending up as their own caricatures—they are not afraid to experiment and keep pushing the boundaries. That’s probably why their new music remains relevant and highly listen-able!
Listen to some ‘virtual’ tracks: