Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sonic Youth - Confusion Is Sex

To quote Bruce "The Employer" Springsteen: "a man who turns his back on his blog just ain't no good". As such, I will no wait ju

So yesterday I had a near unfathomably dull and seemingly interminable dream segmented into literally dozens of loosely connected "acts", each of which would require at least one paragraph to detail and one additional paragraph to describe the excruciating levels of boredom associated. It all started with a blindfolded car ride to the envelope factory, when suddenly t

Have you ever taken a dump so tremendous that you craved the cold embrace of an earthen plot? If not, well lemme tell you, mister, the

I think we can all agree that the above are not the most engaging opening lines for a blog entry, and since I have close to nothing interesting to say, let's move directly into the actual content.
As weird as this may seem, I got into Sonic Youth all those years back through a hastily conceived research paper on the New Yawk No Wave scene for an 11th grade English assignment. At the time, I was reveling deep in the world of post-punk snob-rock and spiraling towards it's ultimate artistic conclusion in the fields of punk-funk and mutant disco. No Wave, as it was, became a short lived obsession of mine, and I ended up hording every DNA, Gynecologists, Theoretical Girls, Friction, and Lydia Lunch associated hunk of laughably overserious shit within reach. It wasn't until this brush with research fields of the utmost prestige (ie: wikipedia) that I'd heard a whole lot about Sonic Youth's involvement in the scene, or at least, Thurston Moore's.
The Noise Festival was an influential festival of art noise music curated by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at the art space White Columns in June 1981. Sonic Youth made their first live appearance at this show. Each night three to five acts performed, including Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatman, Jeffrey Lohn, Dog Eat Dog, Built on Guilt, Rudolph Grey, the Avant Squares, Mofungo, Red Decade, Robin Crutchfield's Dark Day, Ad Hoc Rock, Intense Molecular Activity, Smoking Section, Chinese Puzzle, Avoidance Behaviour, and Sonic Youth.
Good enough context for me to take the plunge. After all, quite a few people consider 1983's Confusion Is Sex the last legitimate No Wave release (which is not something I necessarily agree with, as I'm not one of those elitist dorks who claim that any artist replicating a genre who's scene has long since expired to be illegitimate).
To those who haven't heard this album, there are a number of ways I could describe it, including Glenn Branca orchestrating an indie rock unit. That said, this is a seriously art-damaged mess, severely de-& re-tuned, with odd little inconclusive lyrical quips meandering hazily out of the disaffected maws of Thurston and Kim (who remarkably, sounds even more atonal than she does now). As I recall, there is no studio wizardry or effects pedals at play here (aside the distortion of course), just a mass of otherworldy tunings and heavily prepared guitars that often take on a metallic, clanking, percussive edge.

"So how about the songs? Are they even any good?" you and I say in unison, bored to hell by my increasingly slipshod reviewing style. Well, while this is likely the least accessible material Sonic Youth ever recorded (barring their hit-or-miss live improv sessions and the hilarious TV Shit EP with Yamatsuka Eye), it's the most easily ingested No Wave (or at least No Wave-indebted) album next to The Contortions' monstrous Buy LP I detailed a year ago. There have been far more whacked out takes on the genre, but Sonic Youth had the knack early on for taking these unusual components and crafting actual melodies out of them. Sure, they're often extremely unwelcoming, idiosyncratic, melodies braced with extremely cold 'n' dark inflections, but it not once sounds like the band is just fucking around or even experimenting too heavily. If I can go out on a limb here, the stark, disjointed, make-up of each song sounds a league or two more natural here than the like-minded mid-song passages found in the late 80's incarnation of the band.

To answer that earlier "question"/lame literary device, this is a fucking great album that any fan of the band (or avant-garde rock) needs to check out. It definitely requires some foreplay, especially considering that two of the album's most somber, downright creepy tracks start up the party, but once you let it sink in, it's a super rewarding listen.
For the record, I actually prefer college-friendly Sonic Youth most of the time, so if you need a more eardrum-friendly fix, start at EVOL and work your way up to Goo. BUT OH, wouldn't it be soooo subversive to ONLY like this album? I would trade in so much indie cred for an opportunity to solely enjoy all the albums the world ignores for relatively logical reasons. Here's a potential top 10 list for me to adopt once I reach the apex of eclectic hipster contrarianism:
1.) Gerogerigegege - Showa
2.) Bad Brains - Black Dots (and ONLY Black Dots)
3.) Earth - Extra Capsular Extraction
4.) The Fall - Live In London 1980 (Cassette Version)
5.) John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Wedding Album
6.) ZNR - Traite De Mecanique Populaire
7.) Whitehouse - Right to Kill: Dedicated To Denis Andrew Nilsen
8.) Led Zepellin - Coda
9.) Friction - Live '79 (B-Side ONLY)
10.) Discharge - Never Again EP


  1. Heve,
    Damn, you've been pumping 'em out since your return. way to go. was missing yer missives. Have to say I like your new absurdist style of writing, but I dug yer olde absurdist style as well. Just thought I'd leave a comment.

  2. Ha, well thanks! That means a lot to me, actually. I've got some catching up to do with your operation, as well

  3. I wonder what kind of asshole would like Bad Brains, but only from "Quickness" onward.

  4. Surely people like that don't exist.

    Of course, I don't even like I Against I, so maybe there's a lot of people like that.