Sonic Youth – Sister

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Still a little overrated, but better; if Sister is the best album of 1987 – it isn’t, but it’s close – that’s simply because 1987 didn’t offer much else. A couple of broad statements: whereas the band enjoyed employing explosions on EVOL, they vie for noise breakdowns in the dead center of every song on Sister. Thurston Moore’s vocals are more “Expressway” than they are “Marilyn Monroe” – as in, he’s actually singing in most of these songs; him rising above the chaos in “Tuff Gnarl” makes it an easy standout. And while Steve Shelley helped push some songs forward on EVOL, he’s practically pushing everything on Sister.

Let’s get the mediocrity out of the way first: after the best opening 1-2-punch in the band’s career (and they have a lot of these: “Intro” + “Brave Men Run,” “Tom Violence” + “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Teenage Riot” + “Silver Rocket,” “Dirty Boots” + “Tunic (Song for Karen),” “100%” + “Swimsuit Issue,” “Winner’s Blues” + “Bull in the Heather” and holy fuck, stop me before I do their whole repertoire), “Beauty Lies in the Eye” completely ruins the mood/momentum, and methinks it ought to be shuffled to the back half of the album – or even left off the album to no real consequence, really. It’s a trifle with only one good trick: the guitars that finally break out into a head-first chug at the 1:44 mark, but even then, the song’s structure just makes me want to listen to the infinitely better “Shadow of a Doubt” off EVOL. Meanwhile, “Pipeline / Kill Time” is its parts whereas “Schizophrenia” is the sum of them; “Kill Time” starts off interesting enough, but just does what the title suggests for the rest of the time. Elsewhere, after the novelty of hearing Thurston jump through hoops to get his voice right on cover “Hot Wire My Heart,” there’s nothing left there.

But the positives offer plenty to note: I had listened to “I Got A (Catholic Block)” more than fifty times before I realized that there’s an undertone of noise underneath Moore’s vocals that’s introduced the same time. I’d hit myself for missing it, but it’s easy to see why I would miss such a detail: the kickass riff and insistent drumming are quick to grab your attention. The noise breakdown at the 1:05 mark singlehandedly debunks Mark Prindle’s review of the album (“they also waste [guitar tones] on boring repetitive ringing noise in the middle of every song”), and Kim Gordon’s scream during Moore’s final line “I guess I’m out of luck” rivals Moore’s entrance on “Death Valley ’69,” but while that one was an entrance, this one is the finale – the fight against everything. “Stereo Sanctity” has a noisy guitar trading bars with a more melodic bass, consistently powered by Steve Shelley’s drumming. Years before this, Thurston Moore would’ve shouted some lyrics worthy only of the bedside notebook of a troubled high schooler. It’s different now, and while most of it is still nonsense (“Hylozoic directions” and “hypostatic information” sound cool, but don’t mean a damn thing), he’s waxing poetic (or at least trying to), “Analog soul waving in your hair” and “She’s talking blue streaks everywhere,” and the line “I can’t get laid cause everyone is dead” always manages to put a smile on face; nihilism at its best. Meanwhile, “Cotton Crown” features him and Gordon harmonizing through different channels in the closest thing they have to a straight up love song at this point in time (recall: “Shadow of a Doubt” sneaked in a “You kill him and I’ll kill her”); it sounds like two people finding themselves right before they’re torn to pieces. Closer “White Cross” is the final attempt to get away; the guitars sounding like windshield wipers straining to keep up.

And “Schizophrenia” owns: the way the instruments come in one at a time in its opening section suggests a normality that isn’t normally associated with Sonic Youth; the multipartitism allows Sonic Youth to combine a rock song with an atmospheric one whereas most of their repertoire falls in either/or; Steve Shelley’s drumming in the third part (the 3:11 mark onwards) is especially fucking awesome; the way Thurston Moore says “bitch” somehow draws emphasis on it despite its nonchalant delivery; the way Thurston Moore pauses in his final “Schizophrenia … is taking me home” is genuinely sad, later matched by the song’s outro, a soundtrack for rainy nights when you’re finding your way to a home – any home.

Their fourth best album.

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One response to “Sonic Youth – Sister

  1. Pingback: Sonic Youth – Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star | Free City Sounds·

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