Sonic Youth – NYC Ghosts & Flowers

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One of their worst albums. 

Just so we’re clear, that’s not because Pitchfork—no, sorry—Brett DicCrescenzo (they’re really not the same) gave it the pretentiously low score of 0.0; that review—no, sorry, let me put that as indelicately as possible—has the integrity of a burlap sack of pubic hair dug out from a retirement home’s shower pipes, because DiCrescenzo spends more time bashing New York and praising Chicago than actually talking about the album. And more importantly, a decade after the fact, Brett DiCrescenzo has apologized for the review, “I hated its clichéd New Yorkishness. So I ripped it a new one, deeming it a 0.0 on our knowingly silly, arbitrary decimal scale […] I apologized [to Thurston] and told him that I now love the record,” which means that we can officially re-evaluate it!

Still, I reiterate: one of their worst, and at this point in time, their third worst album. For an album that so proudly declares its love for poetry in its title (New York City is the home of street poetry after all) by a band whose lyrics and more importantly, whose style, has been more and more informed by poetry through the years, the poetry within NYC: Ghosts & Flowers kind of sucks. Thurston’s super-serious reading of “Small Flowers Crack Concrete” reminds me of why I never set out to be a street poet like I wanted to when I was in my teens – I don’t have the necessary life experiences to draw on that the best street poets do. Please note that I’m not saying that suffering is a necessary ingredient to good poetry, nor am I suggesting that Thurston Moore has never suffered in his lifetime. I’m simply suggesting that if you’re going to take center-stage without a glimpse of humour, you better have something to say. He had something to say on “The Diamond Sea,” a vivid account of both the turbulence and wonders of love. He had something to say on “Wildflower Soul,” a lovely song for his newborn daughter. Here, all he can muster is a “Blue jean fucking,” which sounds cool, but means absolutely nothing. The buoying guitar in the song’s last minute was a good idea, though. Meanwhile, his attempt for constant oscillation over a ridiculously speedy tempo on “Streamxsonik Subway” are effortful, but embarrassing. Sonically, the song is interesting because it sounds like the title, but that’s about it really. 

But the other members don’t fair very well either. Of Kim Gordon’s tracks, the best is probably “Side2Side,” whose stream-of-consciousness-styled lyrics works thanks to details like vocals jumping from left channel to right and layering of vocals. Meanwhile, it’s hard for the feminism-fueled “Nevermind (What Was It Anyway)” to be taken seriously when it’s being informed by ironic inequality and contains such blasphemous grammatical errors as “Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider / Girls go to Mars, become rock stars” repeated ad nauseum. Still, though, that song survives thanks to its sound. Closer “Lightnin’” is the worst track of the group, a throwback to their early days of sonic fuckery without direction (the duck farts that open the track weren’t a good sign). I get it! Those guitars are supposed to sound like lightning! Yeah, still sucks. Meanwhile, Lee Ranaldo, who demonstrated on A Thousand Leaves’ “Hoarfrost” and “Karen Koltrane” that he was the group’s best beat poet, decides to take a more melodic approach on the title track but his singing voice just can’t deliver.

Now, Washing Machine and A Thousand Leaves weren’t perfect albums, but they did have a handful of great tracks that could put any cynic in a forgiving mood. NYC Ghosts & Flowers is only 8 songs long, a concise 42 minutes that’s almost half the length of those preceding albums – itself a sign that the band’s running out of ideas. Is there good here? Yes, but just one track. That being said, “Free City Rhymes” is a resounding triumph, one of the best tracks that year and enough to elevate this out to a B grade. The interplaying pings from the two guitars sound otherworldly, like a dream I’ve never had (see especially at the 3:30 mark onwards), while the lyrics do well to lend to the atmosphere (“Heat rises / Lights through the town / Blown soundscapes / Blue city eyes” might have been the things I thought to myself while gazing out the backseat as my family drove on a highway at night if I were more expressive). And obviously Sonic Youth being Sonic Youth could never leave a song that pretty and has the whole thing crashing around your feet by the climax’s end. 

B

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One response to “Sonic Youth – NYC Ghosts & Flowers

  1. Pingback: Sonic Youth – Murray Street | Free City Sounds·

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