Misc. Reviews

The year is 1981. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo are immersed in New York's No Wave scene (Lydia Lunch, Talking Heads), the fluid postpunk dance of ESG, the multilayered guitar orchestras of Glenn Branca, minimalist art, and the cleansing power of punk rock. With arts journalist Kim Gordon, they form a band called Sonic Youth. The quartet records a five-track mini-album, Sonic Youth, in 1982. Offering no detuned guitars or deconstructionist compositional structures, the record showcases clean, pure sound built on the dub spaces of Black Uhuru and discordant beauty of the Contortions, songs like Gordon's spooked "I Dreamed I Dream" lacerating in their solemnity. Metal strings clang and resonate harshly. Percussion is tight and danceable. (The reissued version includes seven raw songs recorded live in September '81.)

The year is 1989. Second drummer Bob Bert has departed to form groovy noise-fuck art terrorists Pussy Galore. Steve Shelley is now the man. Sonic Youth are immersed in the explosive underground hip hop scene, homemade beatbox grooves blasting from street corners. East Village disco queen Madonna rules and John Cage is in fashion, as is Robert Palmer's MTV mainstay "Addicted to Love." Eno and Neu! never went out of style. Moore and Gordon nod to their Material Girl affection through a one-off project called Ciccone Youth. Its sole full-length output, The Whitey Album, is a chaotic, messy indulgence: a few moments of brilliance ("Platoon II"), three fun, nervy covers (Madonna's " Burning Up" and "Into the Groove" and Palmer's "Addicted to Love"), and a whole bunch of weird hip hop, sampled beats, and ambient and avant-garde music, helped by Minutemen bassist Mike Watt.

The year is 1995. Thurston Moore decides he wants to make a three-sided solo album. He enlists the aid of Steve Shelley and Half-Japanese's guitarist. Riot Grrrl has happened, a feminist movement influenced by '60s pop, Rough Trade female post-punk, and Sonic Youth. Thurston picks up on the new generation's youthful fervor and naive adventurism. Yoko Ono remains in favor, as does poetess Patti Smith. Moore's solo release, Psychic Hearts, sounds like Sonic Youth demos and mainly serves to push his position as an extraordinary guitarist, especially the 20-minute "Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars." It's not strictly necessary, but rewarding nonetheless.

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