Artist Profile – Sonic Youth

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Official Site

MySpace Page

(With Special Thanks / Gratitude to SY Gossip Forum)

SY is one band that needs no introduction – they’re one of the best-known groups in the world and for a good reason. The band not only survived the 80s and 90s, but also went further than many of their New York peers (Swans, Rat At R etc.)

While not faultless by any means (the band’s problems were well documented by writers Gina Arnold and Jim DeRogatis), they’re blessed with an excellent musicianship and disdain for conventions. Coming from the art background, the band wasn’t afraid to try out things that many traditional rock bands avoided (unusual tunings, use of noise and feedback and so on).

The band’s history starts out with  Thurston Moore who moved to New York in the 70s and joined Coachmen. He befriended an art student (and a member of Glenn Brance ensemble) named Lee Ranaldo. After the breakup of Coachmen, Moore started playing with Stanton Miranda and the band CKM, which an artist named Kim Gordon.

Eventually, Moore and Gordon formed the band that they called Arcadians (who also performed under the names Red Milk and Male Bonding). Lee Ranaldo also joined the line-up and the band was playing without a drummer for a while, until they met Richard Edson (who quit after the band’s first recorded their first LP and was replaced by Bob Bert).

Moore renamed band into “Sonic Youth” (after combining the name of MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic Smith” and a trend of reggae artists to have the word “Youth” in their name). According to Kim Gordon, the name had a certain sound that was more in the line with what the band was about.

Confusion-Is-Sex-150x150 Artist Profile – Sonic Youth
Confusion Is Sex - 1983

The band’s first few records (self-titled LP from 1982 and 1983 “Confusion Is Sex”) came out on Glenn Branca’s label Neutral Records. “Sonic Youth” didn’t receive too much attention, but most of the reviews were favorable.

All Music Guide called the band’s debut “awkward and rather formative” and described it as being “a fusion of no wave and an early Factory band”. “Confusion Is Sex” was described by AMG as being “lo-fi to the point of tonal drabness, as the instruments seem to ring out in only one tone, that of screechy noise.”

Further on, AMG pointed out the album is a “spellbinding listen, especially the first time through.” In the end, they concluded that “Confusion” cornerstone of Sonic Youth’s career, their true opening salvo toward underground heroism, though miles and miles away from such highly regarded albums as Daydream Nation or Dirty.”

By the mid 80s, the band garnered more acceptance in Europe than in the US, partly because they were placed into a group of bands like Big Black and Butthole Surfers (Robert Christgau named the phenomenon “pigfuck”). Many of those bands shared a similar aesthetic – abrasive, noisy and confrontational, central themes of their songs were related to dealing with America’s underbelly.

Bad-Moon-Rising-150x150 Artist Profile – Sonic Youth
Bad Moon Rising - 1985

1985 saw the band releasing “Bad Moon Rising”  – a “self described Americana album that served as a reaction to the state of the nation at the time”. The album included references to Charles Manson, Satanism and related subjects.

AMG commented that the album “captures the New York band in 1985 during its most morose phase, one that is quite forbidding yet fascinating all the same.”.  Further on, AMG described it as “n eight-song tapestry of droning guitar feedback, distant clattering percussion, and dreamy vocal mumblings, all of it woven together by sullen interludes of ambient noise.”

Late 80s was an incredibly prolific period for the band, as they released 1986 “EVOL”, 1987 “Sister” and 1988 “Daydream Nation”. The band also recorded mostly-instrumental soundtrack to a movie “Made In USA”.

AMG described “EVOL” as the band’s “first move toward rock”, “a stunningly fluent mixture of avant-garde instrumentation and subversions of rock & roll.” “Sister”, according to AMG, was a “masterpiece” / “one of the singular art rock records of the ’80s, surpassed only by Sonic Youth’s next album, Daydream Nation.”

Daydream-Nation-1988-150x150 Artist Profile – Sonic Youth
Daydream Nation - 1988

“Daydream Nation” was described by AMG as a “masterpiece of post-punk art rock”. Further on, AMG commented – “Alternating between tense, hypnotic instrumental passages and furious noise explosions, the music demonstrates a range of emotions and textures, and in many ways, it’s hard not to listen to the record as one long piece of shifting dynamics.”

In the early 90s, the band further raised their profile after coming up with 1990 “Goo” and 1992 “Dirty” (both of which came out on major label Geffen). Videos for songs like “100%”, “Dirty Boots” and “Kool Thing” were featured on MTV and the band also made an appearance in the video “The Year When The Punk Broke”, along with members of Nirvana (who also praised the band). The band even opened for Neil Young during his 1991 Weld tour, but apparently the band failed to win over his fans (Sonic Youth side project Free Kitten even wrote a song about the tour called “Harvest Spoon”) .

AMG described “Goo” as “a defiant call to arms against mainstream musical values” / “a portrait of Sonic Youth at their most self-indulgently noisy and contentious, covering topics ranging from Karen Carpenter (“Tunic”) to UFOs (“Disappearer”) to dating Jesus’ mom (“Mary-Christ”).” In the end, however, they concluded that “by no means a sellout, (Goo) nevertheless lacks the coherence and force of the group’s finest work, and the opportunity to violently rattle the mainstream cage slips by.”

Dirty-150x150 Artist Profile – Sonic Youth
Dirty - 1992

“Dirty” (which was produced by Butch Vig) was described by AMG as “more jagged and purposefully discordant than its immediate precursors, lacking the same hallucinatory grace as Daydream Nation or the hard rock sheen of Goo.” AMG also pointed out that “Dirty” was “Sonic Youth’s most overtly political album, railing against the abuses of the Reagan/Bush era on “Youth Against Fascism,” “Swimsuit Issue,” and “Chapel Hill,” a surprising move from a band so often in love with cryptic irony.”

In the end, they concluded that “Dirty doesn’t sound like a masterpiece (like Daydream Nation) or a gesture toward the mainstream audience (like Goo) — it just sounds like a damn good rock album, and on those terms it ranks with Sonic Youth’s best work.”

By the mid 90s, the influence of alternative/grunge scene became slightly less pronounced (death of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain was one of the defining factors  of this). At that time, SY produced two records – 1994 “Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star” and 1995 “Washing Machine”.

Washing-Machine-150x150 Artist Profile – Sonic Youth
Washing Machine - 1995

Many writers/critics complained that the band lost its direction / run out of things to say, including Gina Arnold and Jim DeRogatis (who called “Washing Machine” the band’s worst album). AMG commented that “Experimental Jet Set” “outnoises the majority of its peers” and that “Butch Vig’s clean production makes the album seem clean, when in actuality it is nearly as dirty as the group’s preceding effort.”

In the end, AMG concluded that “the album sounds rather sedate” compared to the band’s previous work and that Experimental Jet Set “must be considered the closest the group has ever gone to straight-ahead pop/rock”.

AMG called “Washing Machine”  Sonic Youth’s “most adventurous, challenging, and best record since Daydream Nation.” They concluded that “Washing Machine encompasses everything that made Sonic Youth innovators, and shows that they can continue to grow, finding new paths inside their signature sound.”

In the late 90s, the band started Sonic Youth Records, through which they were issuing some of their most uncompromising and experimental work. They also recorded one more album for DGC in the late 90s – 1998 “A Thousand Leaves” (which was described by AMG as SY’s “most cerebral album in ages” / their “most challenging and satisfying record in years”).

NYC-Ghosts-Flowers-150x150 Artist Profile – Sonic Youth
NYC Ghosts & Flowers - 2000

In the first decade of the new millennium the band remained as busy as ever – starting with 2000 “NYC Ghosts And Flowers” and their most recent (as of 2009) album – “The Eternal”, their first record for Matador label.

AMG commented that “the most striking thing about The Eternal is how hard it rocks.” Further on, they pointed out that “While The Eternal doesn’t flow quite as effortlessly as some Sonic Youth albums, it’s perfectly balanced, its raw moments tempered by the subtle “Walkin Blue” and “Malibu Gas Station,” which creeps so imperceptibly toward its raging guitars that they’re almost unnoticed until you’re caught in their undercurrent. Sonic Youth’s freedom to follow their bliss is what holds The Eternal together; just as paradoxically, the changes they make on this album not only bring excitement to their music, they reaffirm just how consistently good the band has been — and continues to be — over the years.”

Current Line-Up:

Kim Gordon (Harry Crews, Mirror/Dash,, Thurston, Kim And Epic)

Lee Ranaldo (Four Guitars, Million Dollar Bashers, Plus Instruments, Text Of Light)

Steve Shelley (Crucifucks, Male Slut, Million Dollar Bashers, Mosquito,Two Dollar Guitar, Wylde Rattz)

Thurston Moore (Backbeat Band, Bark Haze, Ciccone Youth, Diskaholics Anonymous Trio, Four Guitars, Male Slut, MCC / M / M Trio, Mirror / Dash, Northampton Woods, Original Silence, Society Ills, Sonic Youth, Thurston, Kim And Epic, To Live And Shave In L.A., Wylde Rattz)

Selected Discography:

Sonic Youth CD / LP / 12″ (Neutral, 1982 / Zensor, 1983 / SST, 1987 / Geffen, 2006)

Confusion Is Sex CD / LP (Neutral, 1983 / Zensor, 1984 / SST, 1987 / Blast First, 1995)

Kill Yr Idols 12″ (Zensor, 1983)

Death Valley ’69 7″ (Indescence, 1984 / My So Called Records, 1995)

(Over)Kill Your Idols 7″ (Forced Exposure, 1985)

Bad Moon Rising CD / LP (Blast First, 1985 / Homestead, 1985 / DGC, 1995 / Geffen, 1995)

Flower 7″ (Blast First, 1985)

EVOL CD / LP / Cass (SST, 1986 / Blast First, 1986 / DGC, 1994 / Geffen, 1994)

Flower / Halloween 12″ (Blast First, 1986 / Homestead, 1986)

Flower / Satan Is Boring 12″ (Blast First, 1986)

Halloween || 12″ (Blast First, 1986)

Starpower CD / 7″ / 10″ (SST, 1986 / 1990 / Blast First, 1986)

Master=Dik / Beat On The Brat CD / 12″ (SST, 1987 / Blast First, 1987 / Goofin’, 2008)

Sister CD / LP / Cass (Blast First, 1987 / SST, 1987 / Flying Nun, 1987 / Torso, 1987 / Stiletto, 1989 / Geffen, 1994 / DGC, 1994)

Daydream Nation CD / LP / 2XLP / Cass (Blast First, 1988 / Torso, 1988 / Au Go Go, 1988 / Geffen, 1988 / 1993 / 2007 / DGC, 1988 / 1993 / Enigma, 1988 / Goofin’, 2007)

Silver Rocket 7″ (Forced Exposure, 1988)

Sonic Death (Early Sonic – Sonic Youth Live) CD / Cass (SST, 1988 / Blast First, 1988)

Teenage Riot 12″ (Blast First, 1988)

4 Tunna Brix 12″ (Goofin’, 1990)

Disappearer CD / 12″ (DGC, 1990)

Goo / Goo Deluxe Edition CD / LP (DGC, 1990 / Geffen, 1990 / Jugoton, 1990 / Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, 1996 / Geffen, 2005)

Kool Thing CD / 7″ / 12″ (DGC, 1990)

Personality Crisis 7″ (DGC, 1990)

Dirty Boots CD / 12″ (DGC, 1991 / Geffen, 1991)

Goo VHS (DGC + BMG Video, 1991)

Goo Demos CD (Sonic Death, 1991)

Hold That Tiger CD / LP (Geffen, 1991 / Geffen + Father Yod, 1998)

100% CD / 7″ / 10″ / 12″ (DGC, 1992 / Geffen, 1992)

Continental Club Austin, TX – 12 Apr 86 CD (Sonic Death, 1992)

Dirty (DGC, 1992 / Geffen, 1992 / Universal Music Japan, 1992 / Geffen, 2003 / Universal Music US, 2003 / Goofin’, 2003)

Gila Monster Jamboree VHS (Sonic Death, 1992)

Shaking Hell (Live At Vera Groningen, Netherlands 24/11/1983) 7″ (Stampa Alternativa, 1992)

Untitled (with Yamatuska Eye) 7″ (What’s That Noise + Ecstatic Peace, 1992) – Includes Cell track “Fall” and a collaboration between Yamatsuka Eye (Boredoms / Hanatarash) and SY entitled “No ||” (cover of an original written by DC Youth Brigade).

Youth Against Fascism CD / Cass / 10″ / 12″ (Geffen, 1992 / DGC, 1992)

Burning Spear 7″ (Geffen, 1993)

Cotton Crown / PCH 7″ (Sonic Death, 1993)

Drunken Butterfly CD (Geffen, 1993)

Sonic Youth In 1991: The Year The Punk Broke VHS (Geffen Home Video, 1993)

Sugar Kane CD / 10″ / 12″ (Geffen, 1993 / DGC, 1993)

Whore’s Moaning: Oz ’93 Tour Edition CD / 12″ (Geffen, 1993)

Bull In The Heather CD / Cass / 7″ / 10″ (Geffen, 1994)

Experimental Jet Set, Trash And No Star CD / LP (DGC, 1994 / Geffen, 1994) [review]

Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love CD (Geffen, 1995 / Blast First, 1995)

Sonic Youth / Bettie Serveert Split 7″ (A&M, 1994) – Includes covers of Carpenters songs by both bands. BS covered “For All We Know”, while SY covered “Superstar”. Both songs also appeared on “If I Were A Carpenter” compilation.

TV Shit (with Yamatsuka Eye) CD / 12″ (Ecstatic Peace!, 1994)

Sonic Youth / Redd Kross Split 7″ (A&M, 1994) – More tracks from “If I Were A Carpenter” comp. – RK covered “Yesterday Once More” and SY covered “Superstar”

Confusion Is Sex (Plus Kill Yr. Idols) CD / Cass (Geffen, 1995 / Blast First, 1995 / DGC, 1995)

Screaming Fields Of Sonic Love VHS / Laserdisc (Geffen, 1995)

The Diamond Sea CD (Geffen, 1995)

Washing Machine CD / 2xLP (Geffen, 1995 / DGC, 1995) [review]

Little Trouble Girl CD / 12″  (Geffen, 1996)

Anagrama CD / 12″ (Sonic Youth Records, 1997)

Slaapkamers Met Slagroom CD / 12″ (Sonic Youth Records, 1997)

Sonic Life CD (Sonic Book, 1997)

A Thousand Leaves CD /2XLP (DGC, 1998 / Geffen, 1998 / My So Called Records, 1998 / Goofin’, 1998)

Invito Al Cielo (with Jim O’Rourke) CD / 12″ (Sonic Youth Records, 1998)

Silver Session (For Jason Knuth) CD (Sonic Knuth, 1998)

Sunday CD / 7″ (Geffen, 1998)

Goodbye 20th Century CD / 2xLP (Sonic Youth Records, 1999)

NYC Ghosts & Flowers CD / LP (Geffen, 2000)

In The Fishtank #9 ((with I.C.P. / Instant Composers Pool & The Ex)) CD /12″ (In The Fishtank, 2001)

Hits 1998 – 2002 2xCD (Universal, 2002)

Kali Yug Express EP 10″ (Geffen, 2002)

Murray Street CD / LP (Geffen, 2002 / DGC, 2002 / Goofin’, 2002)

New York – Ystad 7″ (Olof Bright, 2002)

Sweet Emotion 7″ (Time-Lag, 2002) –  Two tracks that were recorded during soundtrack sessions to Oliver Assays movie “Demonlover”. Part of Terrastock 5 Boxset

Sonic Youth / Erase Eratta Split (Buddy Series – Vol. 1) 7″ (Narnack, 2003) – SY track is “Mariah Carey And The Arthur Doyle Handcream”

Corporate Ghost – The Videos 1990-2002 DVD (Geffen, 2004)

Sonic Nurse CD / 2XLP (Geffen, 2004)

Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui (with Tim Barnes) CD (Sonic Youth Records, 2005)

Helen Lunderberg / Eyeliner 7″ (Sonic Youth Records, 2006)

Prime Cuts CD (Geffen, 2006)

Rather Ripped CD / LP (Geffen, 2006 / Goofin’, 2006)

The Destroyed Room B-Sides And Rarities CD / 2xLP (Geffen, 2006 / Goofin’, 2006)

Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth (with Mats Gustafsson and Merzbow) CD (Sonic Youth Records, 2008)

Hits Are For Squares CD (Starbucks Entertainment, 2008) – “A Collection of (Sonic Youth) tracks Selected by Writers, Actors, Artists, & Musicians.”, including Mike D, Beck, Radiohead, Diablo Cody, Eddie Vedder,Flea, Gus Van Sant and Flaming Lips

J’accuse Ted Hughes / Agnes B Musique 12″ (Sonic Youth Records, 2008)

Sensational Fix 2×7″ (Verlag Der Buchhandlung Walter König, 2008)

Battery Park – NYC July 4th 2008 LP (Matador, 2009)

Hang Them All / No Garage 7″ (Matador, 2009)

Pay No Mind / Green Light 7″ (Matador, 2009)

The Eternal / The Eternal – Sonic Tooth Box CD / 2xCD / 2XLP (Matador, 2009 / Hostess Entertainment Unlimited, 2009)

Selected Compilation Tracks:

“Dig This!” on Speed Trials (Homestead, 1983)

“Halloween” on A Diamond Hidden In The Mouth Of A Corpse (Giorno Poetry Systems, 1985 / Visionary Communications, 1997)

“Marilyn Moore (Live) on Chemical Imbalance #4 (Chemical Imbalance Magazine, 1986)

“Brother James” on Emma (M.A. Draje, 1986)

“World Looks Red” on Hits $ Corruption (Hits $ Corruption, 1986)

“Hallowed Be Thy Name” on Lovedolls Superstar (SST, 1986)

“Kill Yr. Idols” on Sub Pop 100 (Sub Pop, 1986)

“Beauty Lies In The Eye” on SSTV (SST, 1987)

“Electricity” on Fast ‘N’ Bulbous (Imaginary, 1988)

“I Am Right” on Mini Plot (SST, 1988)

“Within You Without You” on Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father (NME, 1988)

“Come & Smash Me Said The Boy With The Magic Penis” + “Magic Wand” on Devil’s Jukebox (Blast First, 1989) – Also includes a track by Ciccone Youth

“Burning Farm” on Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them (Giant, 1989)

“Computer Age” on The Bridge – A Tribute To Neil Young (Caroline, 1989)

“I Know There’s An Answer” on Smiles, Vibes & Harmony: A Tribute To Brian Wilson (Demilo, 1990)

“Broken Eye” on Vera Groningen – Beauty In The Underworld (VERA, 1990)

“Ca Plane Pour Moi” on Freedom Of Choice (City Slang, 1992 / Caroline, 1992)

“I Love You Mary Jane” on Judgment Night Soundtrack (Epic, 1993) – A collaboration with Cypress Hill

“Genetic” on My So-Called Life – Music From The TV Series (Atlantic, 1994)

“Made In USA (Segment)” on Step, Step, Steppin’ On Satans Foot (Tedium House Publications, 1994) – Also includes a live version of Lee Ranaldo’s track “Infinity”

“Unwind” on USA Today (NME, 1995)

“Touch Me, I’m Sick” on Generation X – The Definitive Sound Of 90s Indie (Generation X Music, 1996) – Also includes Free Kitten’s track “Harvest Spoon”

“Santa Doesn’t Cope Out On Dope” on Just Say Noel (Geffen, 1996)

“Bee-Bee’s Song” + “Sunday” + “Tabla In Suburbia” on SubUrbia Soundtrack (Geffen, 1997) – Also includes Thurston Moore’s track “Psychic Hearts”

“Wildflower” on Tibetian Freedom Concert (Capitol, 1997)

“Campfire” on At Home With The Groovebox (Grand Royal, 2000)

“Tremens” on Open Ends: Musical Exploration In New York – 1960 to 2000 (Museum Music, 2000)

“Audience” on An Anthology Of Noise & Electronic Music / First A-Chronology 1921-2001 (Sub Rosa, 2002 / 2009)

“Loop Cat” on You Can Never Go Fast Enough (Plain Recordings, 2003)

“Simpson’s Theme” on All Tomorrow’s Parties 3.1 (ATP, 2005)

“I Dreamed I Dream” on New York Noise Vol. 2 (Soul Jazz, 2006)


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