Ten Reasons to Love Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth have exerted an influence that will continue to resonate as long as music is being made

Feature by Jay Shukla | 15 Jun 2006
  • Sonic Youth

How does one find words to write about a band as extraordinary as Sonic Youth? Certainly sterile biography could never convey just how large a role they have played in the development of music during the past twenty years.

Through their desire to push themselves, to make mistakes, and in each member's thirst to participate in so many different areas of musical activity - be it improv, jazz, noise, pop or even performance art - Sonic Youth have exerted an influence that will continue to resonate as long as music is being made.

In both their desire to experiment with the possibilities of guitar music, as well as their continued insistence to give support slots to exciting, underexposed young bands, Sonic Youth have never lost touch with the grassroots scene that spawned them - an astonishing truth to attach to a band that have been around for more than 20 years. Quite simply, Sonic Youth never sold out. The Skinny has decided to let the band's music speak for itself; the following tracks constitute ten reasons why we love Sonic Youth. Find them and listen to them:

1. Freezer Burn/I Wanna Be Your Dog (1983)
A minute and a half of ambient dread suddenly gives way to a shotgun blast of red raw, keening vocals and what sounds like Thurston Moore trying to strangle a guitar. Kim Gordon's guttural mantra of 'Now I wanna be yr dog' serves as a seductive and ferocious expression of lustful obsession. Iggy would be proud; Sonic Youth never sounded more dangerous.

2. Death Valley '69 (1985)
Dark as the night, and featuring the most nihilistic bass line you'll ever hear, Dave Grohl astutely described this track – which features a duet between Thurston and Lydia Lunch – as the best music in the world to fuck to.

3. (I Got a) Catholic Block (1987)
A breathless and propulsive highlight of the 'Sister' album on which the band manage to marshal their love of feedback and alternate guitar tunings towards the service of gutsy pop songs. Lyrics like "I trust the oppression/ like I trust your friends" proved that the 'Youth had a way with words as well as distortion.

4. My New House (1988)
Part of a Peel session which consisted entirely of covers of songs by The Fall (and who else could pull off a stunt like that?); Moore and Ranaldo take Smith's seething, ranting rage to its logical, noise drenched conclusion. Witty, hard-hitting and utterly marvellous.

5. Teen Age Riot (1988)
The first track from the band's undisputed masterpiece, 'Daydream Nation', Teen Age Riot is a freakishly perfect song - the culmination of all the band's efforts up to that point. From Gordon's dreamy opening murmurs, to those riffs - yeah, the ones that jump-start your heart and coax a blissful smile onto your lips - this is seven minutes of sonic heaven.

6. Kool Thing (1990)
Their first album on the Geffen label, 'Goo' is less Sonic Youth selling out; more the nascent sounds of a revolutionary subversion of mainstream musical values. This song has the killer riffs, the edgy lyrics and… Chuck D, for fuck's sake! The title says it all.

7. Youth Against Fascism (1992)
For a band so fond of veiled, ironic lyrics, this track served as a vicious swing at the political perversions of the Reagan and Bush era. "Yeah the president sucks/ he's a war pig fuck/ his shit is out of luck" seethes Moore over a brutally simple riff which serves to hammer home the outrage behind the band's sentiment.

8. Piano Piece #13 (For Nam June Paik) (1999)
A recording of the band members hammering nails into a piano keyboard for four minutes. How fucking excellent is that?

9. Karen Revisited (2002)
The icy, paranoid opening chords; the emotionally charged vocal delivery; the swirling, romantic mesh of guitar lines - this was the eleven-minute highlight of a stunning album ('Murray Street') which proved that even at this late stage in their career, Sonic Youth were still improving as songwriters and sounding more epic than just about anyone else out there.

10. Reena (2006)
And so we arrive back at the present day with the lead track from Sonic Youth's new album 'Rather Ripped'. Having parted company with short-lived fifth member Jim O'Rourke, the band have also taken a step away from the intricate noise-laden sound that characterised the two albums on which he worked - a conscious decision intended to confound any critical assumption that Sonic Youth can be defined by an allegiance to any one genre.

Like many of the tracks on this album, Reena is a pared-down, breezy composition which shimmers with simple, vibrant guitar work and understated (yet undeniably memorable) vocal lines. Shorn of their trademark feedback and distortion, they really do appear more confident than ever. 'Rather Ripped' is the sound of a group filled with the same youthful energy and inquisitiveness that led them form a band all those years ago. This is the unmistakeable sound of Sonic Youth.

Rather Ripped' is released through Geffen on June 5.
Sonic Youth will play at the Thurston Moore-curated ATP Nightmare before Christmas festival in Somerset from December 8-10 2006.