Album Review: Sonic Youth


Sonic Youth -‘The Eternal.’ (Matador)

And so it comes to pass that in 2009, two of the most important bands of the last thirty years, The Fall and Sonic Youth are signed to independent labels. Both of them have been there before, of course, but given that it was Sonic Youth signing to Geffen which led to Nirvana signing to them…it’s arguable that had this not happened, guitar music over the last twenty years could have turned out very differently. With the majors panicing big time (hint: focus on your artists and not your shareholders), we see The Fall signed to Domino and Sonic Youth signed to Matador. How will this shape the next decade or more?

Record company issues aside, every release from Sonic Youth feels like An Event. This is their first studio release since 2006’s Rather Ripped, although being Sonic Youth there have been other projects in the meantime, including Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside The Academy, Kim Gordon’s side project Free Kitten’s Inherit, and of course the ongoing SYR releases, including the weird and wonderful J’accuse Ted Hughes. Sonic Youth, rather like the aforementioned Fall, have managed to straddle the difficult gap between underground credibility and mainstream acceptance, difficult at any time, but even more impressive over the course of nearly thirty years. It’s quite fitting that previous members include Jim O’Rourke, collaborators have included Lydia Lunch, Chuck D and Merzbow and that the fifth member for this record is former Pavement bassist Mark Ibold. All of which is topped off by the fact that the cover art was done by none other than John Fahey.

The approach for this album has been that instead of writing and rehearsing a cycle of songs in one time period, instead they have composed two or three tracks one weekend and recorded them the next. So this impressive abum has come together over the course of a month.

Opening track ‘Sacred Trickster’ which has been doing the rounds for a month or so now as a free mp3, is a good example of the album in a nutshell. Combining hardcore influences with a proper, y’know, song, in the course of a little over two minutes it maps out the course of the rest of the album rather like a manifesto. There are the usual allusions to pop culture and the counter-culture: ‘Anti-Orgasn’ is inspired by the story of berlin’s 1960s model/activist Uschi Obermaier and the gang at Kommune 1, for example.

Sonic Youth came out of New York’s early eighties No Wave scene, and over the course of their career, some albums have been more accessible than others. the first album of theirs I heard was 1990’s Goo, which featured trademark guitar motifs but is fairly accessible. Other works like Goodbye 20th Century threw people. To these ears, the Eternal is prime Sonic Youth, in that it features experimentation but is accessible. After several listens I find myself comparing it favourably with albums like Sister and the seminal Daydream Nation.

Like I said earlier, every release from Sonic Youth feels like an event – not because they are a band trading on past glories and people are wondering if they have finally produced a really decent album for the first time in decades, but, rather, because they’re that exciting, that creative, that damn good, that we have to hear and investigate it. Will it win over people who have previously been detractors? No, because Sonic Youth are not that kind of band. But it will appeal to long-term fans, and hopefully, prick the ears of those who have not heard them before.


Sonic Youth -‘Sacred Trickster.’ mp3

The Eternal will be released on matador on June 8 in the UK and June 9 in the US.

Sonic Youth website
/Sonic Youth myspace

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