Sonic Nurse, Two Years Late

I was just about to SQUEEEEEEEEEE all over this blog about Sonic Youth’s new album, which I got my hands on yesterday, but suddenly remembered that my reaction to the previous album was still languishing in my as yet unpublished top 10 list of 2004. Yes, I know.

So, since it’s not like this blog is overloading you with entries to read these days, I thought I’d just dig that up and post it as a prelude.

Sonic Nurse (Sonic Youth):

I should begin by admitting that I am incapable of being objective about this album. I’ve tried and failed to figure out how I would react to it if it were the first Sonic Youth album I’d ever heard, perhaps listening to it only because I’d read a good Pitchfork review, rather than in the context of what feels like the culmination of my decade of fanhood.

This album is vintage Sonic Youth firing on all songwriter and instrumentalist cylinders, and they know it. Pattern Recognition starts things off with what feels like unassailable confidence; you realize that this band which has collaborated with artists running the gamut from free jazz to glitchy ambient electronica and released entire albums of pure feedback is finally doing a tribute to themselves, and it’s going to be stunning. There are no dud tracks here – every song could have been the highlight of some lesser band’s career-peak album. New Hampshire, probably my favourite, is as broody and propulsive as anything on Daydream Nation, and although they keep this album version pretty tight at just a little over 5 minutes, it’s the sort of track that’s just begging for a protracted screaming-guitar-noise-freakout jam when done live. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to describe Kim Gordon’s singing as “heartfelt” before, but in I Love You Golden Blue she breathes her lines with a vulnerability I find surprisingly affecting.

In Paper Cup Exit, the line “I don’t mind if you sing a different song, sing a different song, just as long as you sing, as you sing, sing along” may seem incoherent or contradictory, but if you’re a Sonic Youth fan it makes total sense. As this excellent review at Stylus observed, “despite the consistently fine song-writing the band has to offer, it isn’t the songs themselves that keep their fans coming back. Rather, Sonic Youth is a band at perfect synergy with itself. Every tangential instrumental passage seems not premeditated, but psychically transposed.”

I heard Daydream Nation when I was 14; it changed the way I listened to music. Ten years on, as much as my musical horizons have expanded, Sonic Youth’s sprawling dissonance still explodes more stars in my head and quickens my heartbeat with more pure aural joy than anything else does. Sonic Nurse is my number one album of the year for more reasons than musical brilliance alone – it is beautiful unmistakable proof to me that my favourite band, 24 years, 19 albums, countless experimental tangents, and immeasurable critical acclaim after its formation, has not ceased to listen, create, and rock.


  1. yea 2 years late on the review but an excellent album nonetheless. the stars exploding and quicken heartbeat description is spot-on!

    how’s the new album?

  2. android: The new album’s very good, but it’s a little higher on the tunefulness and a little lower on the sprawling dissonance than I’d like. But I think I need a little more time to marinate in it. Sonic Youth albums rarely reveal all their delights in the first few listens.

    jasmine: Yes, of course I’ve toyed with the idea of being a music reviewer from time to time, but it comes with its own set of problems. It’s incredibly difficult, for one – I can’t think of a single thing I’ve written in my Words About Sounds blog category that I would personally rate as good music writing. Also, I think I’d find it hard to churn out reviews of stuff that didn’t interest me.

    Oh, and I’m still a MJ fan! I didn’t stop loving him as soon as I started loving Sonic Youth, there was and is plenty of room in my heart for them both! :) And for Johnny Depp. And Clive Owen. And David Duchovny. And Ralph Fiennes. And Colin Firth. And Elliott Yamin. And the dude who plays Dr Burke on Grey’s Anatomy. You get my drift.

  3. I always figured it would be easy reviewing music you weren’t interested in. Explaining what you don’t like about somethings alot easier than explaining what you do like about it.

  4. Ah Dr. Burke… He can do no wrong in my eyes.

    I love Paper Cup Exit because of that very line. It made me chuckle when I first listened to it. Classic Sonic Youth philosophy, that is.

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