Sonic Youth

(Copyright © 1999-2020 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Sonic Youth, 7/10 (EP)
Confusion Is Sex, 7.5/10
Bad Moon Rising, 8/10
Evol, 7/10
Sister, 7.5/10
Ranaldo: From Here To Infinity, 6/10
Daydream Nation, 8/10
Ciccone Youth, 6/10
Goo, 6.5/10
Dirty, 7/10
Experimental Jet Set, 6.5/10
Ranaldo solo
Moore: Psychic Hearts (1995), 6.5/10
Moore:Klangfarbenmelodie (1995), 5/10
Moore:Piece For Jetsun Dolma (1997), 5/10
Washing Machine, 7/10
Invito Al Cielo , 6.5/10
A Thousand Leaves, 6.5/10
Moore, Ranaldo, etc: Mmmr , 5/10
Foot , 5/10
Moore: Not Me , 5/10
Moore: Root , 6/10
Moore: Hurricane Floyd , 5/10
Moore: Three Incredible Ideas , 5/10
Moore: TM/MF , 3/10
Goodbye 20th Century, 5/10
Ranaldo: Dirty Windows , 5/10
NYC Ghosts & Flowers , 5.5/10
Murray Street , 6/10
Sonic Nurse (2004) , 6/10
Rather Ripped (2006), 6/10
Moore: Flipped Out Bride (2006), 6/10
Moore: Trees Outside the Academy (2007), 5/10
Moore: Sensitive/ Lethal (2008), 6/10
The Eternal (2009), 5/10
Kim Gordon: No Home Record (2019), 7/10
Moore: The Best Day (2014), 6.5/10
Moore: Rock n Roll Consciousness (2017), 5.5/10
Moore: Spirit Counsel (2019), 6/10

(Clicka qui per la traduzione Italiana)

Sonic Youth marked both the end of the "new wave" and the beginning of an era that was building on the new wave's innovations. In fact, the Sonic Youth were initially more experimental and ambitious than most of the new wave acts. What broke with the new wave was their aim to transcend the cultural stereotypes of their epoch and explore new musical forms while remaining faithful to the nihilistic and alienated ethos of the punk generation. Sonic Youth inherited a world from the punks and the new-wave intellectuals, but Sonic Youth did not inherit their music. Initially, as documented by the instrumental The Good And The Bad, on their debut EP Sonic Youth (1982), Sonic Youth's music sprung from the repetitive style of Glenn Branca's guitar symphonies, from creative jazz and from progressive-rock. Three quarters of the band would remain stable over the years: guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo and bassist Kim Gordon. Their milieu (the art galleries) harked back to the Velvet Underground, not to the CBGB's and the Max's Kansas City (where the new wave was born). The tracks on Confusion Is Sex (1983) were geometric, percussive, obsessive sonatas with abject vocals (reminiscent of the "no wave"); tortured and funereal ceremonies that emanated a sense of psychic unbalance in a totalitarian society; psychodramas that fused gothic, tribal and industrial sources. The guitar overtones became less bleak and almost transcendent on Bad Moon Rising (1985), fearuting Bob Bert on drums. It is still an exhasting journey through urban hell that runs the gamut from spectral psychedelia to sheer horror (Death Valley 99). Contrary to appearances, Sonic Youth had never abandoned the song format. Their line-up, after all, was a classic rock quartet, and even their most experimental pieces were centered upon a core theme (and rarely extended beyond 4-5 minutes). Evol (1986), featuring new drummer Steve Shelley, began to bridge their intense paranoia and pop sensibility (Expressway To Your Skull). This program was completed by two albums that found a new "classic" equilibrium, Sister (1987) and Daydream Nation (1988). The latter marked the end of the road for their combination of glacial and detached vocals, dissonant guitars, chaotic counterpoint, tribal beats. The suspense of Eric's Trip, Teenager Riot and Total Trash was grounded in the semiotics of rock'n'roll, via sonic icons such as Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground. Ensuing albums failed to improve over this model and failed to find the same magical balance of elements: Goo (1990), Dirty (1992), perhaps the best of the "pop" phase, Experimental Jet Set Trash And No Star (1994), which sounded like a senile version of Sister, the self-indulgent Washing Machine (1995), perhaps their most cohesive work of the 1990s. Guitar terrorist Jim O'Rourke joined the band for Invito Al Cielo (1998). Both Ranaldo and Moore have performed and released avantgarde music, often in collaborations with jazz musicians. Sonic Youth's legacy rests with its stories of alienation, sex and death which framed moral issues (both at the personal and at the social level) from a cynical and egocentric perspective. They repudiated the epos of the 1960s for a subdued obituary of vices. The core theme of their music was existential confusion.

(Translated by Nicholas Green from my original Italian text)

Sonic Youth was one of the seminal groups of the 1980s. Few bands have had the same level of influence on their peers, especially among the multitude of collegiate alt-rockers. Sonic Youth embodied the archetype of the musician who aims to transcend the stereotypes of their time and to explore new musical forms, all while remaining true to a nihilistic and alienated quasi-punk ethos. In this sense, Sonic Youth are heirs to both punk and new wave, although they have little in common with either, musically or sociologically. Their origins are in avant-garde classical music, their vocations are creative jazz and rock music (as their solo works have shown), and their personalities belong in New York art galleries and intellectual circles. Contrary to how it may seem at first, Sonic Youth have never stylistically disavowed the rock song. They organize themselves as a typical guitar quartet, and their songs are almost always structured around a theme, being limited to three or four minutes. Even in their more experimental moments, Sonic Youth have always stuck to their rock and roll roots.

Sonic Youth were formed at Noise Fest, organized in June 1981 at White Columns by guitarist Thurston Moore. Alongside Moore were fellow guitarist Lee Ranaldo from Glenn Branca's ensemble, a keyboardist from the same, a drummer, and bassist Kim Gordon (a former art student in Los Angeles who moved to New York with her schoolmate Michael Gira, at that time a friend of Moore). After losing their keyboardist, the quartet took its final form.

The band's first EP, Sonic Youth (Neutral, 1982), launched their career with harmonically debased rock music that primarily aimed to depict—in somber hues—alienation in the post-industrial metropolis. Their urban landscape is dominated by a sense of horror, claustrophobia, and tedium. Compared to British "dark punk," which explored similar themes in those years, Sonic Youth's sound was more systematic and cultured, in large part thanks to Branca's influence (the metallically detuned guitars and minimalist repetitions), alongside the tribal drumbeats and the visceral pulse of the bass.
The band's "negative" dramaturgy found its first accomplished expression in the trippy, dreamlike monologue I Dreamed I Dream; in the tabla festival of the litany She Is Not Alone; in the tinny funk of The Burning Spear, with disturbing electronic hisses and dense atonal ringing; and in the Brancaesque hypnotic repetitions (with a more "African" style of drumming) of I Don't Want To Push It. The instrumental suite The Good And The Bad builds up suspense with long, obsessive sequences of repeated chords that follow one another like discharges of nervous tension, and with nervous, convulsive beats from the drums and bass; generating a nightmarish atmosphere of anticipation that is dispelled in the pressing funk of the finale.
From their first rehearsal onward, Sonic Youth's secret was in the way they tuned their guitars, using all sorts of nonstandard tunings.

As a live act, Sonic Youth is even more traumatizing, with Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo hell-bent on abusing their guitars in all sorts of ways. The atmosphere of their live shows is best represented on their first album, Confusion Is Sex (Neutral, 1983), with Jim Sclavunos on drums. The record establishes their "thriller-rock" at the crest of New York's wave of apocalyptic music with a series of "negative" chants that establish an atmosphere of anguish through drawn-out crescendoing guitar riffs and exhausting iterations.
Prophets of post-industrial dance, Sonic Youth set their desperate existential tortures amidst metropolitan chaos, as frenetic as it is funereal. A common denominator of these songs are the exceptionally disturbing electronic noises contained within, bordering on the most apocalyptic abstractions of Pere Ubu. However, the key element here is the incessant, repetitious, all-enveloping, and oppressive percussiveness, which instead of cohesion leads to a total sonic disintegration. As a whole, the sound is completely disorganized, disconnected, and desolate. Thus it fulfills the double role of depicting a derailed psyche—unraveled by loneliness and crushed by claustrophobia—within its natural environment: a nightmarish metropolis.
In addition to Branca, they are inspired by Lydia Lunch's breathless harangues in an utterly deranged atmosphere (Protect Me You, Confusion Is Next). Their sound is rounded out by electrical shocks, sonic flagellations and clanging guitars (particularly "metallurgic" in the tribal dance of Inhuman), by evocative effects (on The World Looks Red, we hear something between an out-of-tune music box and an ambulance siren), and by a relentless primitivism. The ceremony attains its horrific climax on (She's in A) Bad Mood, a syncopal hallucination set over trembling bass reverberations, and on Shaking Hell, a turbid psychodrama of sado-demonic impulses. Ranaldo puts his signature on the album with Lee Is Free, a chilling and muffled soundtrack of sorts: creaking gates, wind-slammed metal sheets, chains and cowbells, throttled bell-clappers.

To this catalog of psychoses the EP Kill Yr Idols (Zensor, 1983) adds another gem: Early American.

The emphasis of these records is all in their hyper-realist setting.

In contrast, Bad Moon Rising (Homestead, 1985) is a dazed and hallucinatory work that could be their very best, a well-balanced suite with overtones of an almost transcendental intensity, a tableau of industrial Babel, a long and dissonant tone poem. Less strictly "Brancan", more fragmented and introspective, this record marks the point of transition from the angular Wagnerism of their debut to a more human—but still ferocious—expressionism.
The work unfolds as a multi-movement suite haunted by a boundless paranoia, enveloped in terrestrial climates and conveyed through exhausting drumbeats (thanks to Bob Bert, who has taken over from Sclavunos). This approach is exemplified on Brave Men Run (In My Family)—amidst erratic clanging, sustained vibrations and other cacophonous ravings, one hears an epic riff reminiscent of Brian Eno—and Ghost Bitch, a dance of mechanical thumps and hisses over which Kim Gordon vehemently blathers. A good deal of manic depression is put in service of a hallucinogenic trip on I Love Her All The Time, a long, slow journey of dark, gruesome imagery that opens on a spectral landscape of high-pitched distortion and ends in a lethargic dreamscape of sparse chords. The atmosphere is set ablaze on such tribalistic episodes as I'm Insane, a metronomic voodoobilly in a nearly parodic tone. Death Valley '69, the closing track, is a rock and roll song in the vein of X that forms the climax of their horror-trance, here seamlessly coupled with the claustrophobic anguish of the "negative" Lolita (Lunch), a grotesque charade set to a hyper-kinetic tempo, all amidst an extravagant orgy of perversion.

The single Flower (Homestead, 1985) sinks into the existential melancholy of the Grateful Dead, and on its B-side, Halloween, Sonic Youth weds their dark and paranoid anguish to the pornographic nightmares of the Velvet Underground.

Evol (SST, 1986) is a milestone in the band's history, and not only because it marks the entry of drummer Steve Shelley. With this record, Sonic Youth reclaims the rock song format and even pop melodies, although in their hands they are scientifically debilitated. The psychological apocalypse of Tom Violence is archetypal: the song's sleepwalking cadence is torn apart amid the tension generated by the guitars' incessant hammering. A dreamlike atmosphere also pervades Shadow Of A Doubt, built around Kim Gordon's erotic whisper and interspersed with a few sparse and stiff chords, as well as the perversely disoriented (and dissonant) homage to Marilyn Moore, a sort of danse macabre for heroin addicts.
The morbid, sadistic charm of their instrumentals affirms itself on the furious maelstrom of Death To Our Friends. Echoes of a more conventional psychedelia can be found on the tuneful Starpower, with "cosmic" instrumental passages; the Velvet Underground-esque ballad Green Light; and the eerie and incomprehensible noises—like the rustlings of a Martian jungle—of Secret Girl. Their sound conjures up visions of ominous shadows, moral wastelands, rituals of macabre lust, solitary confinement cells, psychological breakdowns, overdoses on psychedelics. This is all to say that Sonic Youth invented a form of rock expressionism. The album's tour de force is Expressway To Yr. Skull, one of the masterpieces of their apocalyptic brand of rock (the mathematical sign for infinity is given as the track's length): here instrumental devastation, decadent litanies, and hallucinogenic emptiness find their point of maximum cohesion. (The track is also titled Madonna, Sean and Me and The Crucifixion of Sean Penn).
Though less profound and unsettling, more similar to traditional rock, their sound exudes the essence of two decades of music of moral degradation. A pagan representation of modern barbarism, it preaches the death of God and man.

The double album Walls Have Ears (1986) collects some of their most hallucinatory live jams.

This new form reaches a new peak of mannerism on Sister (SST, 1987), a record more immersed than ever in a dark and depraved hallucinogenic atmosphere. Metropolitan squalor is still the main subject, but here it is expressed with a more understated approach. Sonic Youth's dark and esoteric rites of alienation are disseminated by anemic singsong in the style of the Velvet Underground (Schizophrenia); by timeless Nicoesque ballads, immersed in a deluge of atonal noise (Beauty Lies In The Eye); by demented soliloquies la Lydia Lunch, set in harrowing abysses of dejection and loneliness (Pacific Coast Highway); by arcane ceremonial chants (Cotton Crown); or by outbursts of intense grief from sepulchral depths, like Pipeline/Kill Time, a mini-concerto of psychedelic distortion, maniacal glissandoes, and ringing death-knells. More radical are Catholic Block, built on a chaotic heap of distorted heavy metal riffs, and the apocalyptic crescendo of White Cross (one of Ranaldo's typical salvos). But the violent thrust of Stereo Sanctity and Tuff Gnarl lead the way to a kind of normalization, with a style more typical of progressive rock.

Both Evol and Sister are transitional works, leaving the brash experimentalism of their early work behind in favor of expressive forms closer to the languid and subdued atmospheres of decadent rock.

At this point Ranaldo gives free rein to the experimental impulses that his bandmates kept in check on a psychedelic solo album, From Here To Infinity (SST, 1987). The end result is a fine reproduction of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, structured in short miniatures of pure noise (and recorded at varying speeds).

Sonic Youth's quest comes to fruition on their artistic summation, the double album Daydream Nation (Enigma, 1988). Here, Ranaldo, Gordon and Moore expand on the amoral tableau of Death Valley '69 with a series of infernal ruminations on the desolation of contemporary life. For the first time, the orgiastic confusion of their sound acquires a moral depth, and one can make out a harsh social critique in such powerful anthem-slogans as Total Trash or Teen Age Riot (inspired by English prog-punk), and the phrase "Daydream Nation" itself (a splendid metaphor for boom America).
Their sound has reached a maturity of expression with few equals among their contemporaries: one can still discern traces of the band's original experimentalism, but here they are artfully melded with well-balanced harmonies that skillfully draw on the tradition of rock music. The motto of Ranaldo, Moore and Gordon is: multiplicity of style in unity of arrangement. Indeed, the ingredients are the same as always: cold, detached singing, guitars distorted to the very limits of sound, counterpoints that intertwine chaotically, relentless repetitions of chords, an insistent percussiveness, dissociative effects, and an atmosphere of suspense.
From them we now get strong garage-rock ballads like Eric's Trip and Hey Joni. In the direction of psychedelic rock, Gordon carves out—with masculine and provocative vocals—The Sprawl and Kissability, depressed litanies that fade into a haze of dissonance; and Moore does his best Syd Barrett imitation on Candle. Meanwhile, in the direction of hardcore, 'Cross The Breeze briefly takes on the blistering speed of thrash metal, while Rain King and Silver Rocket call to mind Branca's "wall of guitars." In these songs the form of the rock song is recaptured, even disfigured as it is by instrumental accompaniments that discreetly draw on the experimentation of the band's earliest years.
Sonic Youth affirms their ability to couch their narratives in highly evocative and emotionally gripping harmonic universes on the three-movement Trilogy: the first part, The Wonder, is a typical chamber-drama underscored by a hypnotic and thunderous beat undergirded by all instruments playing in unison; this is followed by Hyperstation, a free-form jam capable of evoking—with its intricate crescendoing texture, the metallic punctuation of guitars and the frantic fluttering of cymbals and tambourines—an atmosphere of terror and ecstasy that alloys the psychic degradation of a heroin addict with a hyper-realist soundtrack; thereafter the tension explodes in the whirling rhythm of Eliminator Jr., an incendiary hardcore finale.
The synthesis of traditional and experimental elements is legitimized by Ranaldo and Moore's meta-mythological "poses". Reed's decadent inflections permeate some of their most pained dissertations, Total Trash and Hyperstation, which are not coincidentally the closest to the Velvet Underground's murky acid-jams, while Dylan's sermonizing tone peers out behind Rain King and Eric's Trip, which are not coincidentally the most violent of the lot. These four tracks alone represent one of the high points of the group's career. To cap off the record Gordon chants in Rimbaud's "maudit" tone the line "I wanted to know the exact dimensions of hell". It is their version of the "American Dream".

Ciccone Youth (Sonic Youth and Mike Watt), on the other hand, parody hip-hop while satirizing Madonna (Ciccone) and the Beatles (The Whitey Album is the title of their 1989 record for Blast First). Under this pretext, the group crafts an "industrial-metal dub" style, with Neu-like Teutonic noises, Cagean stretches of silence, monolithic feedback, jackhammering hip-hop beats, and snippets of conversation. Outcomes of a more musical sort can be found in Needle Gun's tropical tribalism, MacBeth's maelstrom of distortion, the Hendrixian jam Me And Jill/Hendrix Cosby, and the Ubuesque "modern dance" of March Of The Ciccone Robots. This is a minor episode that mainly serves to affirm their eclecticism.

Gordon and Lydia Lunch also started the group Harry Crews, releasing Naked In Garden Hills.

Sonic Youth's back catalog, starting with the experimental instrumentals The Good And The Bad and Lee Is Free, thereafter moving through the hyper-realist psychedelia of She Is Not Alone, (She's In A) Bad Mood, Total Trash, I Love Her All The Time, Pacific Coast Highway, and Hyperstation; alighted at last on the violent, splenetic balladry of Death Valley '69, Expressway To Yr. Skull, Starpower, Cotton Crown, Teen Age Riot, Rain King, and Eric's Trip. This exhilarating progression tends asymptotically toward a hyper-realist form of rock that is one of the most enduring musical achievements of the last decade.

The complex's hippie cosmology—which on Bad Moon Rising dredges up artifacts concerning the Manson murders all while indulging in pornographic tabloid imagery—is mainly expressed through traumatic narratives that blend horror, surrealism, and decadence (typical of this is Expressway, which begins with a vow to kill all California girls, a sardonic murder fantasy that is in reality a symptom of disgust). Orgiastic and fetishistic as few ever were, Sonic Youth's brand of rock delves into the subconscious of post-punk.

After the splendors of Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth continued in their evolution toward a form of psychedelic pop, although the ensuing albums would be lesser in quality.

Over their last few records, Sonic Youth drew their strength from the merger of three visions: Moore's violent bent (in the vein of hardcore), Ranaldo's psychedelic irrationality, and Gordon's cold intellectualism. These elements were fused together in a modernist architecture; that is to say, in a strictly geometric manner.

(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)

Goo (DGC, 1990), while confirming the absolute stature of the quartet and the ease with which they can construct songs that are both complex and pleasing, shows the first signs of fatigue. If Ranaldo remains mostly in the background (although he is certainly credited with expanding the instrumental parts in that hyper-psychedelic style), leaving Moore with the lion's share, Kim Gordon is much more prominent as a vocalist: her catatonic, monotone voice, unabashed and bored, the Alice in Wonderland of punk, is ideal for philosophizing macabrely on mundane themes, as in Tunic, six minutes of Otherworldly monologue to the beat of a powerful, driving rock and roll.
The garage-rock motifs, such as the catchy Dirty Boots, are mediocre. The longMote (with nearly four minutes of dissonant ending) demonstrates (for better or worse) where the expressive line begun by Expressway To Your Skull and culminating in Teenage Riot and the other melodic gems ofDaydream Nation can lead. Titanium Expose', which celebrates Moore and Gordon`s marriage with a firework of hardrock riffs, ends up soaring. No song is particularly good, however (the single Kool Thing lapses into ridicule), and it`s the first time a Sonic Youth record has not contained a classic. The somewhat kitschy lyrics do not help to make these formulaic, amorphous tracks palatable. The group seems to want to exploit to the full the tricks that made it famous (the dissonant tuning of the guitars, the hallucinatory instrumental queues), but sometimes this results in a labored scraping of the bottom of the barrel.

Better, though not at the level of the early records, is the new 1992 double album, Dirty (DGC), which continues the progression in progress from the early days toward an increasingly abstract and at the same time increasingly emotional form of rock song, a rock song that, stylistically and content-wise, is increasingly a metaphor or allusion, and increasingly less a confession; but it does so, instead of recycling the usual anti-arrangement tactics, by updating itself profoundly to the "industrial" (the deafening tribalism and wall of guitars of Swimsuit Issue), to grunge (Orange Rolls Angel's Spit, shrieked by Gordon in a guttural register in the midst of a tornado of distortion and epilepsy), to "cheese" (the dissonances used by way of comic counterpoint in Youth Against Fascism).
Even their soft, morbid psychedelia (Theresa's Sound-world, inspired by Sister's Schizophrenia) is staged with a better sense of suspense. They continue to disappoint, however, with songs designed for mass consumption, such as100%, Wish Fulfillment, and Chapel Hill, which unimaginatively exploit the group's trademarks. And there are too many bland tracks, as if Sonic Youth were releasing the leftovers of the first eight years. The best is found in blatant imitations of the Velvet Underground, such asSugar Kane (dedicated to Marilyn Monroe), and the boogie Purr.
Gordon continues to spout anemic Lydia Lunch-esque dirges(Drunken Butterfly, with madly drilling guitars, madly crescendoing drums, and the "I love you/ What's your name" verse that apes but flips the tables on The Doors' Hello I Love You ). For its series of monologues of "lost" women in the long On The Strip, it is the turn of a prostitute.

The group also has the luxury of recording an EP of pure noise,TV Shit (Ecstatic Peace, 1994) with Japanese experimentalist Yamatsuka Eye.

At the height of their fame, they released Experimental Jet Set Trash And No Star (DGC, 1994), an album that from its title presents itself as an act of repentance. The sound is indeed that of Daydream Nation, less experimental and less harsh than the last two efforts. The autobiographical theme permeates instantly gripping songs like Screaming Skull, and the core of the work is that of Tokyo Eye, of sui generis songs that focus on psychology rather than music.
The aloof and somewhat jaded rock "baroness" Kim Gordon blathers a few words on Doctor's Orders, Bull In The Heather and Skink, which live on languor and torpor, awakening only when the group tries to imitate the Cramps inQuest For The Cup. His most evocative moment is perhaps in Sweet Shine, a long dirge in which Gordon tries to blend the asexual whisper of Nico and the sick growl of Janis Joplin.
To show how much he has aged, Moore even tries an anarcho-punk sermon, In The Mind Of The Burgeois Reader.
This is the record a bunch of French post-eistentialist philosophers would make if they knew how to play electric instruments.
Sonic Youth undergoes (rather than exerts) the influence of contemporary rock, particularly that of the "lo-fi" songwriting of Guided By Voices. Moore being the member fascinated by this current, it is easy to ascribe this record to his pen: Sonic Youth are perhaps becoming Moore's backing band. Gordon indulges the leader and husband, who allows her a few flashes of freedom, Shelley is a mere wage earner, and Ranaldo is simply a mad experimenter who is kept as a luxury guest.

Meanwhile, solo records galore come out. Ranaldo releases Scriptures Of The Golden Eternity (Drunken Fish, 1993), dating back to 1989, avant-garde music for guitar and tape, andEast Jesus (Atavistic, 1995), a collection of unreleased and personal rarities from 1981-1991, including a revision of music from From Here To Infinity (SST, 1987). Ranaldo's problem is that he takes himself too seriously. His experiments are as interesting as those of any dormitory student. Other remnants of his solo evenings can be found on the Broken Circle/Spiral Hill EP (Starlight, 1994) and on Amarillo Ramp (Starlight, 1995). With jazz drummer William Hooker he records Envisioning (Knitting Factory, 1995) and Bouquet (Knitting Factory, 2000).

Gordon also plays (without much success) in the Free Kitten. Shelley helps Jad Fair in the Mosquitos.

Moore had begun to show signs of restlessness at the time ofBarefoot In The Head (Forced Exposure, 1991), an album of highly experimental music recorded with the two Borbetomagus saxophonists, Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich. Then he had distinguished himself alongside jazz drummer William Hooker (Ecstatic Peace, 1992). He had also participated in the Dim Stars project (Ecstatic Peace, 1992), with Richard Hell, Don Fleming, and Steve Shelley. In 1995 Moore recorded two less ambitious, but perhaps more successful, works than those of his peers: Psychic Hearts (Geffen, 1995) andKlangfarbenmelodie (Corpus Hermeticum, 1995).

Psychic Hearts (Geffen, 1995) reveals, basically, what Sonic Youth should sound like according to Moore. Just remove the guitar harshness of that inveterate Ranaldo and silence the monotone singer that is Kim Gordon. The result is much more conventional rock, decently sung (Moore is certainly a better singer than Gordon and Ranaldo) and neatly executed. Not that Moore gives up experimenting with the song format: he simply attempts to wrap up the search, as he did on Daydream Nation and Sister and the other maturity albums. Not that Moore gives up dissonant arrangements: he simply puts them in the service of the song. The main difference from the Sonic Youth records is that here Moore strives to write good songs. In common with the Sonic Youth records is the fundamental fragility of the harmonies, which would need more instruments, and perhaps more skilled instrumentalists.
Moore guesses a few numbers to make the group's major repertoire envious, and not surprisingly they are all spirited numbers (as opposed to the Sonic Youth standard): Psychic Hearts, between Velvet Underground and Stooges and at a tribal pace,Patti Smith Math Scratch, between garage-rock and Rolling Stones,Cindy and the instrumental Blues From Beyond The Grave. The twenty minutes of Elegy For All The Dead Rock Stars, on the other hand, are self-indulgent beyond measure: Ranaldo's (far more creative) guitar input is really indispensable for these endeavors.
The record's limitation is simply that Moore ends up sounding like Pere Ubu in their least inspired moments.

Klangfarbenmelodie (Corpus Hermeticum, 1995) effectively restarts from his collaboration with Hooker, simply replacing Hooker with the humble Tom Surgal (formerly of Blue Humans) and reversing the roles (star instead of wingman). The title track, recorded live, is a half-hour free improvisation, in which Moore delights in producing the most surreal sounds from the instrument, moving from a tenuous chatter to a crescendo of paroxysm. Moore fiddles at the strings like a free-jazz saxophonist. This is Moore's alter ego, the cacophonous experimenter, magically coexisting with the moderate revisionist rock songwriter.

Moore will repeat himself with Piece For Jetsun Dolma (Victo, 1997), improvised live, again with only drum accompaniment. Meanwhile he also records a pair of records with jazzman Nels Cline:Pillow Wand (Little Brother, 1997) andIn-Store (Father Yod, 1997).

A much more organic and collective work than its predecessor, which was in fact a solo record by Moore, Washing Machine (Geffen, 1995) is the album that establishes Gordon and Moore in the guise of parents, that is, normal adults with a normal middle-class existence. Sonic Youth's albums are becoming containers of banality, but they are still banalities expounded with the tone of a Princeton Nobel laureate.
This time the work is divided among the individual personalities, but the instrumental parts give the impression that they were not studied at a desk but improvised in the studio. All this ends up mercilessly amplifying what has always been the group's weak point: the singing. The record comes across as too talky, chatty, humming.
For one thing, the form of their songs is becoming even more simplified: Ranaldo`sSaucer-like and Moore`s Unwind are normal songs, employing the hottest harmonics of their career(Psychic Hearts left their mark). One recognizes them only by the bridges and tails distorted by the usual out-of-tune tunings. Gordon dusts off the girl-groups of the 1960s in Little Trouble Girl, as usual with a sense of humor worthy of a mortician (better, however, than when he does the Patti Smith in Washing Machine). They are somewhat clumsy attempts to sound like a normal rock band.
On the other, the guitarists show off an absolute mastery of instrumental improvisation. The high points are represented by the long coda of Washing Machine, a light Lou Reed-esque boogie sent into psychedelic orbit by swirls of galactic feedback, and the endless Diamond Sea (twenty minutes, reduced to four for the single and three for the video), in which Television and Neil Young's art of counterpoint is transported to a more psychoanalytic dimension, especially when the guitars, tuned in the most roguelike manners, roll up on each other generating a shaggy as well as hypnotic chiming.
Unfortunately, the other songs tend to repeat themselves: Moore'sJunkie's Promise is a revision of Sprawl (from Daydream Nation) and Gordon's opening Becuz repeats Theresa's Soundworld (from Dirty), which itself was derived from Schizophrenia (on Sister).

The album disfigures in the face of Made In USA (Rhino, 1995), an unreleased soundtrack from 1986, some 20 concise, largely instrumental tracks that harken back to the creatively fiery climates of those years.

The personalities of the three thus begin to emerge more clearly. Moore is the true soul of the group, the glue between the various tendencies, the more traditional guitarist and songwriter, and the man who really brought Sonic Youth's mission in rock history into focus. Ranaldo is simply an experimenter who is tight with any concrete agenda. Gordon is a bohemian intellectual but has very little musical talent.

The EP Anagrama (SYR, 1997) inaugurates their personal label and "musical perspectives" series with four instrumental compositions, followed by the EPSlaapkamers Met Slagroom (SYR, 1998). The two (long) title-tracks deserve to stand among their most articulate compositions.Invitation To Heaven (SYR, 1998) completes the trilogy: Jim O'Rourke disrupts the group's balance and perhaps inspires much of the tour de force turn,Radio-Amatoroj.

A Thousand Leaves (Geffen, 1998) restarts from The Diamond Sea, but shows even more obvious signs of senility. The album opens(Contre Le Sexisme) and closes(Heather Angel) under the banner of white noise, with Gordon acting neurotic against a backdrop of assorted noises. The single Sunday sports the usual convoluted skein of guitar chords over a catchy Lou Reed-esque boogie rhythm. But the various, slow and melancholy, Hoarfrost and Snare Girl, do not add a note one to the repertoire that matters, in fact they perhaps downgrade the group: bad singers, Sonic Youth make the mistake of wanting to sing up front. And Gordon grows increasingly bored, especially in Female Mechanic On Duty, the long psychodrama that would like to be his answer to Meredith Brooks' Bitch.
The album`s tours de force are ambitious attempts to re-invent the rock song-form: they begin with a rather weak and trite (given their singing talents) sung theme that systematically results in a guitar jam. It happens to Wildflower Soul, Hits Of Sunshine andKaren Koltrane, the first two still tied to the patterns enshrined by the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers, the third thrown decidedly into the avant-garde camp. In these long improvisations, one senses that perhaps Sonic Youth's two souls, that of the experimental EPs and solo projects and that of the collective albums, are finding a belated meeting point: they are the same people, but for years they hadn't understood what they wanted to play. Maybe they wanted to play just that: long atonal guitar variations that find a third way, not jazz and not rock.

Meanwhile, Moore and Ranaldo also record with avant-gardists Loren Mazzacane Connors and Jean-Marc Montera the improvised album Mmmr (Number Zero, 1998). Moore is part of Foot (God Bless, 1998) with Don Fleming and Jim Dunbar. Moore records Not Me (Fourth Dimension, 1998) with Tom Surgal.Root (Lo, 1998) contains 25 short "cues" by Moore supplemented by other musicians. Hurricane Floyd (Sublingual, 2000) is a collaboration with jazz saxophonist Wally Shoup and percussionist Toshi Makihara.

Dirty Windows (Atavistic, 2000) is Ranaldo's melancholy diary. Accompanied by Epic Soundtracks, Ranaldo turns folksinger and vents his anxiety for society. While never surrendering his abrasive feedbacks, Ranaldo sounds and looks sixty years ago, belonging to the generation of Woody Guthrie and early Bob Dylan.

Sonic Youth perform works by modern avant-garde composers such as John Cage Christian Wolff, Pauline Oliveros and Yoko Ono on Goodbye 20th Century (SYR, 1999), a two-disc set, the latest in a series of unconventional, mostly instrumental releases on their own label. The score for Takehisa Kosugi's +- consists of 10 lines of mostly plus and minus symbols, indicating vaguely when players should build up sounds or relax. Kosugi and Wolff joined the band in the studio to help the band interpret their compositions. Six for New Time for Sonic Youth was composed specifically for the band by Pauline Oliveros.

Three Incredible IDeas (Auditorium, 2001) is a collaboration between Moore and cellist Walter Prati and trombonist Giancarlo Schiffini. TM/MF (Sarah Coltier Gallery, 2001) is a collaboration with painter Marco Fusinato (he painted while Moore was improvising). Live At Easthampton Town Hall (JMZ, 2001) is a collaboration with harpist Zeena Parkins and guitarist Nels Cline, and easily the best of the batch.

(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)

In retrospect, it can be said that perhaps no ensemble has been able to represent their time as well as they have, from the metropolitan nightmares of the early 1980s, when the crisis gripped America, to the carefree follies of the Reagan era, which had transformed the US into a "daydreaming nation." Dirty vivisects the revival of traditional values with the anger and hypocrisy of the establishment in the face of new civil rights struggles. It is the most direct and provocative record of their career, and in this wanting at all costs to associate a message (and therefore a marketing idea) with music one can perhaps recognize their new star status: something has to be written about by the magazines that matter, and they certainly won`t write about dissonance and debauchery.

In the 1980s, Sonic Youth set a standard of introspective, personal and internalized lyrics with which hundreds of rock bands have since measured themselves. Their "songs" told stories of alienation, sex and death, questioned all values (affective and social) with the cynicism typical of post-punk, repudiated the epos of rock in favor of a resigned obituary of vices. It was the quintessence of qualunquism and egocentrism, albeit from an intellectual front. In Eric's Trip Ranaldo sang "I can't see anything at all/ All I can see is me." The deafening din of instruments served to further suffocate those lyrics: to bury them under a heap of noise so that they would not have to be heard while singing them. The main theme of rock music thus became that of existential "confusion."

In the last few records of the 1990s, Sonic Youth abandoned the poses that made them idols of their generation in favor of a perhaps more socially laudable but certainly less original commitment. Gordon, in particular, has become an intellectual pedant often devoted to somewhat dated feminist themes. Ranaldo seems distracted in Sonic Youth as an artist who has much else on his mind but is forced into petty work to make ends meet. Moore is, with Gordon, the other beacon of the group, and he is really trying to become a good songwriter. He lacks, perhaps, the talent.

If (on the musical as on the poetic level) the sense of shock, of trauma, of shock therapy has been lost, the "inflection" of that sound (and its taking up archetypal inflections such as that of the Velvet Underground and that of hard-rock) still remains. Whether inspiration is drying up after that (as the last few albums make one fear) or not does not matter so much: Pink Floyd even ended up making mediocre records, but critics kept praising them because they "sounded" like Pink Floyd. There is something eternal about the sound of the classics, something that transcends aesthetic values and, in a paroxysmal phenomenon of fetishism, ends up representing an entire musical civilization.

(No translation - original Scaruffi text below - click here for the Italian translation)

NYC Ghosts & Flowers (Checkered Past, 2000) is an interesting cross-cultural experiment that grafts beat poetry onto noise-rock. But too much spoken-word (and not exactly revelatory) and and too much instrumental doodling make this one of their least remarkable records. It sounds like the band put it together without much conviction.
Too bad, because Free City Rhymes (a delicately shifting twin strumming trance that lets a melodic theme appear and disappear) is a wonderful reminder of their "noisy" past, and the punchy Renegade Princess could have been a Sister showcase. The textures of the spoken pieces are intriguing, but hardly revolutionary.
Sonic Youth's weakness has always been the vocals, and improved musical skills can only make it more evident.

Kim Gordon/ DJ Olive/ Ikue Mori (SYR, 2000) is Gordon's avantgarde record.

Sonic Youth's Murray Street (Geffen, 2002) continues the trilogy "about the cultural history of lower Manhattan". The band has permanently added Jim O'Rourke on bass (not to mention the Borbetomagus on saxophones), while Kim Gordon switches to guitar, thereby creating a three-guitar sound with Moore and Ranaldo. Ranaldo's 11-minute Karen Revisited is the stand-out track, the ideal meeting point for the Sonic Youth's original guitar mayhem and O'Rourke's post-rock abstractions. However, the lengthy instrumental doodling of Rain on Tin shows how the idea can as easily go wrong. Moore's The Empty Page (and Disconnection Notice) and Gordon's Plastic Sun and Sympathy for the Strawberry are also notable, although hardly major additions to the canon. Thankfully, the Sonic Youth avoid spoken-word pieces and do not let Kim Gordon sing.

Sonic Nurse (Geffen, 2004) is laid-back melodic background music for the post-noise generation. Mellow, tooth-less and formulaic, Ranaldo's and Moore's songs aim for a new center of mass, a new reference point. The old Sonic Youth-esque song format is kept alive only by Kim Gordon (who was largely aloof on previous albums). She is the one who leads the six-minute sonic attack of Pattern Recognition and Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream (originally titled Mariah Carey and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream). The instrumental pillars of the band sail towards a different horizon. WIth Dripping Dream, the seven-minute Stones and the eleven-minute I Love You Golden Blue, reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's Dreams, they demonstrate how they have perfected a personal variation on the format of the acid-rock jam, a praxis anchored to instrumental dexterity and an almost transcendent aesthetics of mood. Noise-rock has not exhausted its potentialities.

Hidros 3 (Smalltown Supersound, 2004), dedicated to Patti Smith, is a live improvisation with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, featuring also Loren Mazzacane Connors.

Music for Stage and Screen collected various Lee Ranaldo compositions recorded between 2001 and 2004.

Text Of Light (Starlight Furniture, 2004) is a collaboration among guitarists Alan Licht Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo, turntablists Christian Marclay and DJ Olive, drummer William Hooker and saxophonist Ulrich Krieger. Text Of Light released the triple-disc Metal Box (2006), including the 58-minute 052202 Tonic/020103 RAW.

Koncertas Stan Brakhage Prisiminimui (SYR, 2005) contains three lengthy improvisations with percussionist Tim Barnes (Tower Recordings).

Dispensing with Jim O'Rourke, Rather Ripped (Goofin', 2006) returned Sonic Youth to a simpler pop sound and song format. The collection is littered with quotations from previous Sonic Youth albums, but the delivery is streamlined to the point that this albums resembles what the Byrds did for Bob Dylan's songs (Reena, Incinerate). What A Waste indeed. The vapid Do You Believe in Rapture seems to make fun of themselves.

Thurston Moore rediscovered his avantgarde roots (Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham) with the two extended droning guitar pieces of Flipped Out Bride (Blossoming Noise, 2006), but then veered towards the traditional singer-songwriter on Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace, 2007), accompanied by violinist Samara Lubelski, drummer Steve Shelley, Charalambides' vocalist Christina Carter, only to return to noisy improvisation on Sensitive Lethal (No Fun, 2008).

The Destroyed Room (Geffen, 2007) collects Sonic Youth rarities.

In 2008 Kim Gordon collaborated with Phantom Orchard (laptop player Ikue Mori and harp player Zeena Parkins) in the "The Song Project", with the addition of Mr Bungle's bassist Trevor Dunn and the Boredoms' drummer Yoshimi.

Ranaldo's one-sided EP Countless Centuries Fled Into The Distance (Table Of The Elements, 2008) contains three pieces that summarize his career, from noise-rock to avantgarde.

Ranaldo's Maelstrom from Drift (Three Lobed, 2008) collects rarities.

The Eternal (Matador, 2009), dedicated to late Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, was one of their most accessible and casual works. The ten-minute Massage the History is the artistic tour de force, although it seems to meander through several styles in search of meaning. The rest are tight rock songs such as Sacred Trickster and intellectual rants such as Anti-Orgasm. It mostly comes through as an inferior version of what Television were doing when Sonic Youth still had to start.

Ranaldo also played with the Afternoon Saints on The Shirley Jangle (may 2001) that featured turntablist Christian Marclay and percussionist  Günter Müller.

Thurston Moore's Solo Acoustic (Vineyard, 2011) was a solo-guitar meditation for Jack Rose, and Demolished Thoughts (Matador, 2011) was an intimate and evocative set of songs with Samra Lubelski on violin and Mary Lattimore on harp, both signs that Moore was moving towards more linear and ethereal structures. However, on Suicide Notes For Acoustic Guitar (Carbon, 2011) Moore instead unleashed a tornado of Japanese-style noisecore.

The Afternoon Saints of Shirley Jangle (K-Raa-K, 2010), originally recorded in may 2001, were turntablist Christian Marclay, Swiss percussionist Gunter Muller, Sonic Youth's guitarist Lee Ranaldo and bagpipe player David Watson.

Lee Ranaldo, Nels Cline and Alan Licht (three guitarists), John Medeski (keyboards), Steve Shelley (drums) and Jim O'Rourke collaborated on Between The Times And The Tides (Matador, 2012).

Sonic Youth's Simon Werner A Disparu (SYR, 2011) is a soundtrack for a French film.

Glacial (3Lobed, 2012) documents the trio of Ranaldo, David Watson (on bagpipes) and drummer Tony Buck of the Necks, originally recorded in november 2005.

Live jams between Thurston Moore & drummer John Moloney are documented on Caught On Tape (Feeding Tube, 2012) and Fundamental Sunshine (Manhand, 2012).

Thurston Moore and Loren Connors recorded live The Stone and Public Assembly, grouped together on The Only Way to Go Is Straight Through (Northern Spy, 2013).

In The Fishtank Vol. 9 (2013) documents a live performance recorded in june 2001 by members of Sonic Youth and jazz players: Luc Ex (bass), Ab Baars (rreds), Han Beenink and Steve Shelley (drums), Jim O'Rourke (electronics), guitarists Lee Ranaldo, Terrie Ex and Thrston Moore, percussionist William Dinant and trombonist Wolter Wierbos.

Having separated from Moore, Kim Gordon formed the duo Body/Head with Bill Nace. They debuted with the improvised Coming Apart (2013).

Vi Ar Alla Guds Slavar/ We Are All Slaves Under God (september 2012) documents a collaboration between Mats Gustafsson and Thurston Moore.

@ (february 2013) documents a collaboration between John Zorn and Thurston Moore. Moore also recorded the lengthy improvisation of Sonic STREET Chicago (november 2013).

The Road To Jajouka (2013) features music by Ornette Coleman and John Zorn (alto saxes), Marc Ribot (banjo), Lee Ranaldo (guitar), John Medeski (Hammond organ), Bill Laswell and Chris Wood (basses), Billy Martin and Mickey Hart (drums) along with the Master Musicians of Jajouka from Morocco.

Merzbow (aka Masami Akita) on noise electronics, Mats Gustafsson on sax and clarinet, Thurston Moore on guitar and Balazs Pandi on drums improvised the jams of Cuts Of Guilt, Cuts Deeper (april 2014).

Ranaldo's It All Begins Now (Whose Streets? Our Streets!) premiered in 2011. Ranaldo's Ambient Loop For Vancouver (Important, 2015), recorded in 2004, contains a single 54-minute composition with contributions from Alan Licht on guitar, Christian Marclay on turntables, and William Hooker on drums.

Gordon published her memoir "Girl in the Band" (2015) and scored the soundtrack for Andy Warhol's silent movie Kiss (2019) with Steve Gunn, Bill Nace, and John Truscinski.

Relocated to Los Angeles, Kim Gordon released her first solo album at the age of 66: No Home Record (2019), produced by Justin Raisen, an album that crowned her as a latter-day rock poetess, a Patti Smith of the digital age. The album builds an ideal bridge between the new wave of her youth and the production modes of the new century. She evokes the funk-punk of the no wave in Air BnB with Arto Lindsay-ian atonal guitar licks, and the stately sinister Murdered Out (her 2016 single) glides over a guitar distorted into harsh shrill drones; but the syncopated, industrial beat of Sketch Artist propels a program of "glitch-pop meets expressionist theater". The inventions span a broad spectrum: a ringing telephone opens Hungry Baby, which is actually a demented country hoedown, and Paprika Pony is a whispered rap over a loop of toy piano and drum-machine. Her charismatic anti-virtuoso singing reaches way back in time: Get Yr Life Back resurrects the spectre of Nico but in a cacophonous wasteland of found-sounds and vibrating electronics, while Earthquake is dilated like in the psychedelic chants of early acid-rock (like a female David Crosby). Credit also goes to the producer: Justin Raisen is to Kim Gordon what John Cale was to Nico on her legendary solo albums.

Moore, who had also released the cassette Black Weeds / White Death (2007), the acoustic guitar solo album VDSQ Solo Acoustic Volume Five (2011), the collaboration with Yoko Ono and Kim Gordon Yokokimthurston (2012) and the collaboration with John Zorn @ (2013), formed a band with fellow guitarist James Sedwards, My Bloody Valentine's bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Steve Shelley to record The Best Day (2014). The album contains the eight-minute Speak to the Wild, that sounds like a Television threnody before the Sonic Youth-esque instrumental coda, and the eleven-minute Forevermore, a gothic litany over a propulsive guitar jam that sometimes recalls Lou Reed. But it also features the brief, propulsive and poppy Detonation.

Moore was hyper-active in the 2010s. Cuts of Guilt Cuts Deeper (2015) documents an international band with Japanese noisemaker Merzbow, Swedish jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, and Hungarian drummer. Heretics (2016) documents a collaboration with Anne-James Chaton and Andy Moor, who penned vignettes of "heretical" minds throughout history (Caravaggio, William Burroughs, Marquis de Sade, Johnny Rotten and so on). Rock n Roll Consciousness (2017), recorded by the same line up of The Best Day, contains only five compositions, but long ones, notably the twelve-minute Exalted (minimalist repetition, Indian-esque transcendence, tribal drumming), and the tortured prog-jazz suite Turn On. Dunia (2017) contains two lengthy duets between Moore and Turkish jazz guitarist Umut Caglar. The sprawling Spirit Counsel (2019) contains three colossal compositions: Alice Moki Jayne (63:42), in which Moore plays with other guitarists, with Googe, with a drummer and with electronic musician Woobly (Jon Leidecker); 8 Spring Street (29:20), a noisy tribute to Glenn Branca for solo guitar; and the visceral crushing chamber symphony Galaxies (55:42) for 12 guitarists (including Sedwards, David Toop, Jonah Falco of Fucked Up, Susan Stenger of Band of Susans, Rachel Aggs, Eugene Coyne of Silver Chapter, and Paul McCartney's son James).

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