Wild Mercury Sound

Sonic Youth revisited

John Mulvey

Apologies for the lack of blogging action these past couple of days. I have a stack of excuses - perilous deadlines, aborted radio interviews, leaving the Super Furry Animals album at home, that sort of thing, as if you care. I'll try and write something about Super Furry Animals' "Hey Venus" in the next couple of days, as well as Richard Hawley, Caribou, Rilo Kiley, that Jason Isbell record I've been meaning to do something about for a month, and so on.

I guess I could write something about the lovely Congolese soukous band I saw at Stokefest in North London on Sunday, while chasing my son up and down a double decker bus with a bar in it. Today, though, I've been reacquainting myself with Sonic Youth's "Daydream Nation".

"Daydream Nation" was a mighty important record for me as a student, along with "Sister"; I suppose it was the music that introduced me to the possibilities of noise, of how a song can be stretched into exhilarating and fractious new shapes. Sonic Youth are one of those bands who don't just make magnificent music themselves (their last three albums prove they're still doing just that), but act as a kind of portal to so much more outre sound. The cover art also got me hooked on Gerhardt Richter, by the by.

This deluxe CD reissue of "Daydream Nation" that's just turned up sounds, I'm pleased to say, just as vital as it did 19 years ago. It's one of my favourite records, but it can still surprise me: that "Teen Age Riot" remains as good an album opening as I've ever heard is no shock, but today we were all bowled over by "Rain King", not one of the tracks I've usually privileged.

And there's the paciness of it all. I always think, probably lazily, of "Daydream Nation" as a luxuriant, gradually unravelling suite of songs, as the point where the downtown punk kids started jamming and drifting off. But actually, there's a fairly relentless propulsion to it all, not just in the linear precision of those meshed guitars, but in the drumming of Steve Shelley. For all his intricate little tumbles, he's still hammering away at near-hardcore pace for much of the set.

And, for that matter, throughout the live versions which make up much of Disc 2. Compared with some of the previous Youth reissues, the absence of lost songs is a disappointment: a Lee Ranaldo demo of "Eric's Trip" is about it. The live versions, though, make those forthcoming live performances of the album seem incredibly tantalising. And there's also a bunch of cover versions culled from various comps and singles.

I'd never heard their take on Captain Beefheart's "Electricity" before, but it illustrates one of the great secrets of Sonic Youth: if they hadn't been so busy making transcendent avant-rock, they'd have been a fucking marvellous garage band.


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Robert Plant, Tom Petty, The Beatles, King Crimson, Bobby Womack: inside the new Uncut!


Welcome to the new issue of Uncut! John’s on holiday this week – he was last seen disappearing into darkest Gloucestershire – so it falls to me to show you around this month's edition instead.

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