Ecstatic Peace!

Naturally, every time I plan a trip to London, before I even bother checking plane flights I check the gig calendar to see what I can plan my trip around. This year’s check revealed that Thurston Moore would be at ATP the weekend of 3/4 December, but I’m not extremely keen on attending this one because the rest of the lineup isn’t appealing enough to me to justify the expense. So I decided to bide my time and see if the acts I was most excited about from the lineup would announce separate gigs in London, as has often happened in the surrounding weeks of ATP.

After several weeks of waiting, nothing had happened, and I was getting antsy about getting the flights at a good price. So on Tuesday night I knuckled down and was just about to buy my flights, with my last day in London to be Friday, 2 December. Just before I confirmed payment, I realized that since I hope to impose myself on the hospitality of various London-based friends for accommodation, it would be a lot more convenient for any friend I’m staying with if I left on a Saturday rather than on a Friday, in terms of returning their keys and stuff like that. So I booked the flight for Saturday, 3 December instead, and opened Facebook for some idle “so, did anything interesting happen in the last 10 minutes?” surfing.

It turns out that in the last 10 minutes, Thurston Moore had announced a gig. On 2 December. At the Union Chapel, which is one of the few London music venues I’ve been trying to see gigs at for years with no success. In 2003, I chose to forgo seeing Low there so that Alec and I could get out of London on a Valentine’s Day weekend. While it was a wonderful weekend and totally worth it, I must admit the decision still haunts me. And every time I’ve returned to London since then, the timing just hasn’t been right to see someone I like perform there, let alone the linchpin of my favourite band.

So this long story is basically why, on Tuesday night at about 8 p.m., I ran around my home screaming, near tears from happiness, and wondering how I would survive until the tickets went on sale.

They went on sale at 5 p.m. (Singapore time) today. I got one.

And now, if you’ll excuse me from this excursion into INDIE SQUEE, I have to watch X-Factor USA. :D

Sonic Youth Snark Snippets

I haven’t bothered to read many reviews of The Destroyed Room, the new Sonic Youth rarities collection, because, well, good or bad reviews are fairly irrelevant to my need to own anything Sonic Youth, but as it turns out I’m quite happy I wandered into this one at Stylus. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here are some especially funny snippets:

“In an effort, presumably, to stay lock-step with Ghostface in the holiday odds £ sods market, the Yoof have put together The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities or More Fish for Balding White Music Critics.”

“The Diamond Sea, which originally clocked in at 19 minutes, wasn’t exactly yearning for an extended mix.”

“If you own all this material, congratulations: you are probably David Fricke or Lee Ranaldo’s mother.”

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.


An update on the Sonic Youth/Cat Power saga at U Penn I ranted about previously – the gig went ahead, apparently with an audience of about 300-400 people in a venue which could have housed 2000.

What a bunch of dorks. And by that, I mean the other 1700 who could have been there but were probably too busy RAWKING OUT to the Dave Matthews Band cuz they, like, RULE. Of course I hate the people who were there too, but that’s just envy.

Now I’ve vented some spleen, I hasten to add that I’m not entirely humourless about this whole thing. This column in the college newspaper was actually pretty funny: RIAA sues 4 students for bad taste in music.

“The Recording Industry Association of America filed lawsuits yesterday against four Penn students who were found to have downloaded Sonic Youth songs onto their computers.

Citing “bad taste,” officials said the individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If convicted, the students face a minimum sentence of 10 months in an alternative music rehabilitation center.

Treatment could also include intensive listening sessions featuring musicians of the 21st century, or trips to spring concerts at other universities that plan to feature contemporary artists.”

Later in the column:

“Lawsuits such as the ones aimed at the four students are part of the RIAA’s strategy of suing individual users for their personal music preferences. The trend began in September 2003, when the group sued two Princeton students for downloading entire Ace of Base albums.

“I just liked ‘I Saw the Sign’ and it got out of control,” recovering bad-music addict Bridget Takacs said. Though her police record will forever be branded “stuck in the 1990s,” Takacs was grateful for the intervention.”

Teenage Hissyfit In A Public Station

The University of Pennsylvania has got Sonic Youth to headline its Spring Fling concert, with Cat Power opening, and get this – its students aren’t happy about it.

“Who are they?” College freshman Elizabeth Jefferson asked. “I’ve never heard of them.”

Wharton junior Lloyd Thomas said he feels “disappointed,” especially considering what some other schools have performing this year.

For example, Snoop Dogg will be headlining Cornell’s Slope Day concert and Ben Folds will be playing at Brown’s Spring Weekend.

“I think we deserve a bigger name,” Thomas said.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I guess anyone who thinks Snoop Dogg or Ben Folds are “bigger names” than Sonic Youth really does deserve to get them. Hell, why not shoot for the moon and try for Ashlee Simpson?

Other selected quotes from students’ comments posted in response to the articles:

“I am very disappointed at the choice of band. Yea, Sonic Youth was a precursor to the grunge-era but grunge died when Courtney shot Kurt. I understand SPEC is trying to be “different” but I guess they don’t realize that although “bad” is different from “good”, people won’t respect that decision. I am not wasting $20 to see a washed-up grunge band that didn’t even make a lasting impact. I compare them to Ace-of-Base, an afterthought, almost a novelty act.”

“If they really wanted to get a good non hip-hop band what’s wrong with Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day, The Format, & Taking Back Sunday????”

“nirvana is very influential but just because they are, and sonic youth came out before them and they are relatively the same genre, you can’t say that sonic youth is as influential as nirvana. that’s blasphemy!”

Okay, I’ve decided. I’m laughing. Hysterically.

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking. What a fucking snob. The thing is, I have no problem with people not knowing who Sonic Youth are. But I really do fart in the general direction of anyone who would whine about a band simply because they’ve never heard of them, or spend time broadcasting those whinings on the Internet when they could just type the band’s name into Google (or, like, download some albums – what are they in college for if not to abuse broadband filesharing?) and work on reducing that ignorance. I must say, for a “washed-up” “grunge” “afterthought” with no “lasting impact”, 712000 search results isn’t bad. And I’m even sure that only 711990 of those results are from this blog.

Dirty Drooling

This review of the re-release of Sonic Youth’s Dirty album got a lot of what I like about the album right.

It also got my salivary glands into hyperdrive with its description of all the extra goodies included in the re-release. In particular, I quote: “Then come the instrumentals. Almost an entire disc of them, in fact. Failed experiments, jams, dry run-throughs of songs that made it on to Dirty, with nary a word from Kim, Thurston or Lee. This is probably the re-issue’s main selling point. On most of their extended jams, Sonic Youth could work up a haze and mood that was positively unparalleled, and it’s fairly intriguing to have a disc where that haze is never broken by the group’s piercing vocals.”

A disc full of Sonic Youth jams, which sound catchy rather than like the mutant offspring of free jazz and a powerdrill, and no Kim vocals? I WANT.

Pitchfork 1, Sonic Youth 0

Ha. Pitchfork may poke fun at my favourite band a little too gleefully, and I really don’t think NYC Ghosts and Flowers was quite as dire as the 0.0 Brent DiCrescenzo gave it, but at least they’re funny, and often spot-on.

The NYC Ghosts review has this exceptionally penetrating insight about Kim Gordon’s vocal contributions to the album (hey, in my opinion, every album. I’ve written about it before.):
“Elsewhere, it’s straight spoken word, or in Gordon’s case, “grunted word”– the quality of which brings to mind freshman poetry classes where that one Doors worshiper recites beat prose to the general embarrassment of the entire class.”

From a recent news update:
“In Sonic Youth side project news, keep an eye out for the Supreme Indifference on Kill Rock Stars. The trio consists of Jim O’Rourke, Alan Licht, and Kim Gordon. The first track has been titled “Male in-Communication.” We suspect it is hideously experimental.”

Sonic Youth: Documentary and Dirty notes

Crept downstairs last night during an extended break from jurisprudence to watch 4Music’s Pioneers feature on Sonic Youth, which reassured me that my marked inability to evoke the sheer joy this band’s music gives me in any sort of articulate way is shared by lots of other people, including the band themselves (although we didn’t even hear from Kim and Steve at all, boo, C4). There was Butch Vig using the tired old (but still frustratingly spot-on IMO) “glorious noise”, Brian Molko talking about getting chucked into volcanos and swimming around in magma (also quite apt, really), and Sonic Youth themselves (grovel, worship) sounding very art-rock and cliched and saying how everything is about the music, blah blah blah.

But be not deceived by this flippance. Truth be told, I sat in front of the TV for those precious 20 minutes like a 14 year old girl watching a Westlife porn video.

I was then, unfortunately, forced to stay downstairs trying to wolf the rest of my supper down while David Gray sang what felt like the same song for half an hour, after which I staggered back up to my room and put Dirty on very loud, because I was in the mood for it (yes, I know it’s supposed to be the sell-out album and lots of people hate it but I like it anyway), and here are random notes:

Does anyone else find the riffing in Drunken Butterfly incredibly seductive?

I think the best part of this album for me is the three song sequence in the middle. Sugar Kane initially sounds like another one of those exceptionally accessible Thurston-vocal SY songs like Teenage Riot and Sunday , but the minute you hear that intro you just know this song isn’t just going to be about catchiness, and that they’re not going to be able to resist some sort of descent into chaos later in the song. You can’t wait, but you also sense some return to order will follow, this is a song they’ll taper to a close. They do…and then they launch into the rollicking riot of dissonance and attitudinal Kim that is Orange Rolls, Angel’s Spit. And after this you get Youth Against Fascism, which is one of those songs which SY detractors probably jeer at as aging rockers’ attempting to keep in touch with the Ghostworld crowd, but which to me feels exuberant and brash and something I could mosh to without getting killed, and hey, sometimes that’s all I’m asking for. No one ever said they were political philosophers, after all, and yeah the president sucks/he’s a war pig fuck is fun to yell.