Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, February 19, 2003
AT LEAST THE 2ND BEST SONIC YOUTH ALBUM!.....I noticed that they're giving the "Nice Price" treatment to SONIC YOUTH's great SST LPs Evol and Sister these days. I plunked down a mighty $8.98 for a new CD copy of 1987's "Sister" over the weekend to replace my battered LP, and the memories came a-flooding back as I listened to it. It's a great goddamn record, one that many feel is their best (some, like me, could go with Evol, others with Goo -- seems like no one goes with Daydream Nation). I saw the band put on one of the then-best live shows I'd ever seen the week this record was released, at a small, packed, sweaty coffeehouse in Isla Vista, CA at the kick-off for the first "Sister" tour -- the one that ended with a medley of Ramones tunes at every encore. The next year I -- sickeningly -- saw Sonic Youth four times in five nights, up and down the California coast (they happened to be bringing the new shit-hot band Mudhoney with them), and I swear they almost never let me down live; in fact they arguably continued to get better live, in inverse to the quality of their records, so much so that the best tour I saw them on was in the mid-90s supporting the mediocre Washing Machine albums (!). I'd see 'em now -- are they even touring anymore?

But jeez, it's been 16 years since "Sister" came out and really built this band's reputation beyond the dark indie noise and adventuresome rock critic crowds. This LP boasts some of their most spiraling, barely-in-control guitar pyrotechnics ("Stereo Sanctity", "P.C.H.", the second half of "Schizophrenia") while being their first record to have a POP sensibility on just about every track (i.e. discernible hooks, "nice" vocals etc.). Their version of Crime's "Hot Wire My Heart" is absolutely amazing -- they are one of the only bands who could pull off Frankie Fix' and Johnny Strike's guitar MESS and render it as wildly coherent as the original -- and the beautiful tuning and feedback on "Cotton Crown" is still a high-water mark in bringing gentle, surging noise to a sweet-as-pie ballad. I'll admit that some of it dates a little poorly -- the lyrics on "P.C.H.", gawd -- but it's a trifle. They're practically giving these things away, folks!