Sonic Youth: Classic or Dud/S&D?

Message Bookmarked
Bookmark Removed
I distinctly remember some fairly recent SY discussion, but the archives reveal no CoD thread so here goes. My opinion? Well, to be honest, I've only heard Daydream Nation but the delirious greatness of that album is enough for me to proclaim them as undeniably classic. Any other band that can produce an album full of "anthems in a vacuum" that shimmer, melt and reform with riffs and melodies that crawl out of nightmare guitar-torture chasms gets my vote. What the hell, why not a SY Search and Destroy, too?

Mitch Lastnamewithheld, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Classic ever since Daydream Nation. Though I'm hardly ever in the right mood to play their stuff when I do I binge on it like crack. Search: Sister/Dirty/Goo/NYC Ghosts & Flowers.

scott, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

'Experimental Jet Set' I like too, but a large part of its appeal is in the way it smoulders along and then dramatically explodes and then repeats the trick. This is fine but music that's based around drama tends not to stand up to repeated playing, given that dramatic (and the same can be said for comedic) effectiveness is dependant on not knowing what's about to happen next. In other words I don't think drama or comedy should ever be the dominant qualities in a piece of music. Haven't found that problem with any of their other albums though.

scott, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Am I the only person that thinks Daydream Nation is pretention, overblown, overbearing and about 20 minutes too long? It's one of my least favourite SY albums. My opinion (and filter that through my dronerock beautiful-noisenik arse) is:

Search: Bad Moon Rising, Evol (****), Sister (***** - if I had another star, it would get 6 stars, it is that classic!!!), Goo, and about 15 to 20 minutes of Dirty

Destroy: Daydream Nation, the rest of Dirty and everything else that followed up until about NYC Ghosts & Flowers, which basically scrapes by with a ***

I do actually *love* a great deal of Sonic Youth's eirie, spacey, alien, wonky, warped, blissful music. However, also DESTROY: the *entire* NYC Sonic Youth Cult Of Art and all the pretentious jazzwankers who hang out at the Cooler wishing they could be Lee Renaldo. You're not. Now shave off the chin-rag and go home.

Oh, GAWD, why didn't I think of Sonic Youth back in the "Love the band, hate the image" thread?

masonic boom, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Am I the only person that thinks Daydream Nation is pretention, overblown, overbearing and about 20 minutes too long?

No, it's a sentiment I've seen expressed a fair bit, but I'd disagree with it myself.

On Sonic Youth, I'm pretty much a spouter of the conventional indie- rock wisdom. Evol/Sister/Daydream Nation : five star classic. Dirty/Goo : grand poppier stuff but with loss experimental edge. Post- Dirty: good bits very good but the more self-consciously experimental bits don't rock enough to match up to the pop stuff. Pre-Evol: interesting, but don't listen to it that much.

Richard Tunnicliffe, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

No, Kate you're not - your description of DN is spot-on. AND I agree with you on 'Sister' - definitely the best - Schizophrenia, Catholic Block, Pipeline/Kill Time, and especially Cotton Crown and White Cross are fantastic. It seems like their whole sound, vision and attitood all came together in such a sharp focus on this album. EVOL nearly gets there, but afterwards DN blurs it out too much.

The other album I REALLY like is 'Dirty'. SY diehards may not agree, and it does feel like a step towards the 'mainstream', which is what I really like about it, I guess. Search for "Theresa's Sound World", but it's all great.

I lost interest after Dirty - I always intend to pick up some of the 90's albums cheap, and never do.

Destroy : Bad Moon Rising and the awful Death Valley '69.

Dr. C, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Death Valley 69? Oh come ON! Classic! Utter classic! A duet between two of the most TUNELESS singers of our time! Thurston Moore *and* Lydia Lunch! Come on! I'd like to see Nick Cave and Kylie do some of *that*! years ahead of its time!

masonic boom, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

the thing about sonic youth is, all their records only have one really great song, and the rest are kind of, well, ok. but this doesn't stop their records being ace.

daydream nation was the last good record though, goo was ok, but i think their time was over by 90. i like all that confusion=sex era stuff though, although i figure i'd like it more without kim gordon's voice on there...

gareth, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

"all the pretentious jazzwankers who hang out at the Cooler wishing they could be Lee Renaldo" = totally totally me (except obviously when I'm wishing I cd be Tamzin Outhwaite or whatever), yet I never "got round" to buying any of their "experimental 90s albs" till the NYC art-wank Ono/Olivieros cover versions compilation. Which = grate, btw.

"NYC Sonic Youth Cult Of Art": to be fair, this shd be "Cult of the NYC Sonic Youth Cult Of Art", cuz to them — as opposed to their disciples? — it's like "Madonna, George Maciunas, Meat Puppets? it's all rock'n'roll to me"

mark s, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

The problem is that the newer work is treated as poor because it has nothing *new* to say, or rather, little new to say. The problem is that the newer work is in many respects superior, just slightly so, and so all the old SY hands yawn and act blase. If you were just discovering SY, and got Thousand Leaves, say, first (I'll leave out NYG&F because I consider it a fairly atrocious attempt to "dumb down" back to their fanbase) or Washing Machine, or even Experimental Jet Set Trash, now wouldn't you consider THAT yer favorite album? Because Experimental Jet Set is mine, for just that reason. Sister comes a close second. Best song is The Sprawl from DN though, which has uniquely good lyrics (as does most of DN, actually) and this incredible emotional resonance with me.

If anyonae but SY had produced Silver Sessions, they would have been brilliant. As it is, avoid them. DV69 is indeed great, with Lunch at the height of her spotty powers.

Sterling Clover, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

SY one of those bands which in popfascist mode I always thought should put out a best-of which would become their best album, but that they never would do this. Then they did, and it's not as good as some of their proper albums. Curses foiled again!

They're the worlds most overground underground band, bless 'em. Classic I suppose. Daydream Nation is great precisely because the sprawl dilutes the attitude until wimps like me don't want to slap them any more. For the 'real thing' I'd take Bad Moon Rising just for "Brave Men Run (In My Family)". EVOL and Sister are good, yeah yeah, never actually listen to them though. After DN they almost turn into a singles band for a bit - "Dirty Boots" is mainstream and ace, "Kool Thing" is apalling, "100%" and "Youth Against Fascism" are the brilliant sound of them trying SO HARD to sell out, and then they didn't manage it and I've kind of lost track now.

Tom, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

See, Tom, that's what I liked about Goo, even though it was *slated* by many "old skool SY fans" of the time. It was the sound of them *trying* desperately to sell out, but still not quite getting it right, and in the process, they created something which was very pop, yet at the same time very twisted and not quite right. Dirty saw them trying to "do grunge" which, even though they helped invent the genre, had already turned into something inherantly uninteresting in the hands of the Pearl Sham MTV massive.

masonic boom, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

This thread is so depressing for me because I am thee person who can't separate Sonic Youth's image from their music and I thought maybe some smart person would be able to explain to me what's going on there, why isn't it OK for smarmy bourgeois people to make dark experimental music (ok maybe they're not even but I'm *talking* image). It makes me feel like I must be bitter or something not to get them and I'm sure that if I heard someone else do their music I'd be much more compassionate. Am I against community? I ask, because they are the sine qua non community band. This is my first problem.

I like songs like 'Silver Rocket' but the fact is, I don't believe Sonic Youth. Don't they make the kind of music you should be driven to by DESPERATION? And does anyone really believe they are desperate?

Maryann, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Search - Daydream Nation Destroy: The rest

hmmm, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Not quite a classic because I rarely (maybe once a year, if that) ever want to listen to them, but I do agree with that first post that when I start listening to them I get momentarily hooked, as if I just bought Washing Machine (which I still love, though no one else seems to) after hearing the radio edit of "Diamond Sea" back in, '95 was it? I was a late-comer but I went back and bought the reissued back catalog, and back then I liked the old stuff way better because I was indie rock and the old stuff is always better. Especially if it was on SST, which I kind of hate now, but anyway...Recent listening has caused me to reasses their output, which I will now organize in Search and Destroy fashion:

Search: "Brave Men Run", Daydream Nation, "Dirty Boots", Dirty, Washing Machine

Destroy: most of EVOL and Goo (to me, both the epitome of generic indie rock of their respective eras), Lydia Lunch, Lee's vox

larms, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

They peaked with Goo and have never been as good. WHy are they still around? SHouldn't they have gon e the way of the Pixies? Gad I hate when an Idea gets old.

-- Mike Hanley, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Despite all the disappointments since, SY were one of the few bands that really rocked my world in the mid eighties. But Daydream Nation was the beginning of the end, and I was always mildly irritated by the indie hordes who went out and bought that LP, never to realise that the 2 *classic* SY LPs were Evol & Sister. How about the Whitey Album, by Ciccone Youth (from 86? 87?) - There are some great tunes on there too (G-Force; Into the Groovey; ...). Or was I the only person who bought that LP?

Anybody seen SY live recently? I last saw them in the mid 90s and they were remarkably good ... Couldn't believe the number of people who walked out on them during the prolonged squalls of white noise & feedback. And does anyone remember the South Bank Show that was split between Daydream Nation era SY, & Spillane era John Zorn - Now *that* was entertainment ... I'm still pissed off at myself for taping over it 14 years ago.

BTW, who was their greatest drummer? Bob Bert or Steve Shelley?

I.M.Belong, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

ICA show 1982, Bert's last — he was, er, "re-auditioning" for his own job (and in fact failed the audition) — was the GREATEST SHOW I HAVE EVER SEEN EVER: like watching (and hearing) the entire matter of the universe transform its total geometry (er, which obviously I saw on John Craven's Newsround a few weeks before, so can compare, ahem). SS is obviously the more Buddy Miles- ish drummer they always wanted, but I think he makes things too easy for them.

mark s, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Used to enjoy Ciccone Youth hugely but it got lost.

If I'm anything to go by, the indie hordes knew full well that EVOL and Sister were meant to be "the *classic*" albums and avoided them for just that reason. How punky of us.

Tom, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Maryanne- DESPERATION?!?!? Where did you get that from? Since when was avante guarde art noise dronerock the sound of desperation? More like the sound of the bourgousie (I cannot spell that word) escaping their upper middle class Connecticut trust fund roots. (Not that I hold that against them or anything...)

Or is this a continuation of the fallacy that punke rocke somehow equals the GENUINE WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT OF THE PEOPLE?

The most cutting edge music comes not from desperation, but from boredom. A good deal of Sonic Youth- like the two movements they helped inspire (shoegazing in the UK and grunge in the US) - had far less to do with desperation, than longing for transcendance from boredom.

And oh yes, Ciccone Youth kick ass. Especially the video- which I bet really was recorded in one of those Boardwalk "Star In Your Own Video!" type places so common in the late 80s...

masonic boom, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Being a unbearded Brit I've no idea abt the insufferability or otherwise of "all the pretentious jazzwankers who hang out at the Cooler wishing they could be Lee Renaldo" but one of the (many) things I like abt SY is that they're musicians who remain enthusiasts/collectors/propagandists - people like US, sorf of. Example: the Sonny Sharrock name-dropping on the 'Master-Dik' ep led me to search out some Sharrock albs ('Guitar' and 'Ask The Ages') that are now amongst my favourite recs - thanks Thurston! An INCLUSIVE dream of non-cool hipsterdom.

SEARCH: I'm ever-so undiscriminating abt my SY recs - like 'em all, pretty much - but I'd put in a special word for Lee Ranaldo's contributions: the group's leading experimentalist turns out to be their most conventionally romantic/moving songwriter! And I dig his singing more than Thurston or Kim's.

DESTROY: If pushed, the first alb and ' Washing Machine', the latter a sort of compromise between the pseudo-blues of 'Experimental Jet Set' (their most underrated alb) and the post-rock sprawl of 'Thousand Leaves'. And much as I like some of his discs, am puzzled as to why Jim O'Rourke has now become the fifth member of SY, and playing bass of all things. Saying that I'm looking forward to the upcoming SY/JO 'modern classical' gig at the RFH - just to see HOW they go abt it, if nothing else - and I've read somewhere that on the night they're going to be joined by John Zorn and Anthony Braxton - can this be true?

Andrew L, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Ah, Sonic Youth. Remind me to throttle people who say that the newest albums are the best. This includes the bandmembers themselves. I see Sterling's point, but I still think the later stuff is, generally speaking, one huge load of 'eh.' I freely proclaim both _DN_ and to a lesser extent _Goo_ as being the period where they got everything right -- the earlier stuff is scattershot and I'd rather listen to the Swans anyway, the later stuff is either bad pop/rock or coasting on myths in order to top up the pension funds and support the kids. Also, based on the bands Thurston signed to DGC, he's got a phenomenonally tin ear. Cell and St. Johnny, I ask you.

I tend to think that when it came to fried, weird punk/Krautrock/whatever music, Trumans Water's first few albums make for better listening these days than the bulk of SY's material. Feels fresher, somehow.

Ned Raggett, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Ciccone Youth sounds like an italian pornstar

hmm, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

hmmm@hmmmmm.com sounds like a fake e-mail :P

I never got into Sonic Youth because I hated all the people I knew who liked them, and because I hated what little I heard from them. I've heard a bit more lately, and file them firmly in the category of bands whose appeal I can understand, but that I'm still not very interested in. The guitar "wash" is so lethargic and half-assed, without any real intensity. Maybe I'll appreciate them when I'm thirty. Maybe it's one of those things where "you just had to be there". Maybe not.

Dave M., Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

dud, i've never heard a song i liked. they always seem to lack something, they get the cool sounds and forget the tune, get the tune and sing like cows, etc...also they make teeny-bopper videos even though they are all like 73. destroy lee renaldo's poetry notebook.

keith, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Masonic Boom - thanks for your reply. Good response. I can definitely see that the romantic idea of art as the expression of suffering is largely discredited. I think this is why Sonic Youth make me anxious; if I don't like them, does this mean that I'm maladjusted?

But do you really think Sonic Youth even seem bored? Most of their songs sound like they're supposed to be 'intense' and those that reflect a kind of ennui, such as Teenage Riot, seem just as contrived as their contrived intensity. There's no foothold - they always seem to be able to maintain control - in fact, they seem to have to maintain control even when they DON'T want to. Therefore, no possibility of identification with them. Too closed. Agree with Dave M. above.

Maryann, Wednesday, 6 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Silver Session! I love that album.

Kodanshi, Thursday, 7 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

people should use the html capacities of this board more creatively. bring on the blinking rainbow text and embedded midi files.

ethan, Thursday, 7 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

scene from a new year's party:

"have you ever been listening to _washing machine_ and felt you were in the presence of a superior being?"

"when i was 17, man, all the time."

i feel only pity for all those who do not believe and more for those who are too cool to still believe.

sundar subramanian, Friday, 8 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Key phrase: "when i was 17, man, all the time."

When I was 17, playing Sister would result in the feeling of being in the presence of a higher power. So how can something like Washing Machine affect me?

masonic boom, Friday, 8 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

A Thousand Leaves is heaven's doorbell. Granted, not everyone's into doorbells...

Wesley, Sunday, 10 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Tuneless bunch of Duds. Their abominable and embarrassing set at ATP2000 was one of the worst I've ever had the pleasure to witness.

the pinefox, Sunday, 10 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

because it's just beautiful, kate. the melodies are heavenly, the guitars come together so gently and then explode, the sentiments are so sweet, lee ranaldo actually comes through every time. it doesn't sound at all like a rehash of sister to me. and that's just it, say what you will, sy have made an effort to say something new with every record, especially compared to any other band. sure, i meant the irony -- sy pretty much traffic in adolescent thrills. but what else is rock music good for?

make no mistake, they redefined the guitar. they didn't simply dumb down branca for rock audiences (which someone could argue the velvets did re lamonte young), they added their own signature with new prepared guitar textures and tunings and ecstatic dissonant climaxes. they went from the post-pil jamming on the first ep to the mix of hardcore punk and no wave and dark noise on the first album to the industrial grind/shimmer of bad moon rising to the blissful intimate genderfuck of evol (generic??? want to argue that case?) to the rock-from-another-planet of sister. vocals and lyrics added a twisted but relevant dimension. and that's just the 80s.

ignoring daydream nation, which i've discussed elsewhere (read that thread, kate?), they continued to signify when they went mainstream. despite their numerous obvious errors, they continued to make inspiring work. dirty is not at all a watering down of any of their ideas. the instrumental breaks are constructed entirely differently than in their other work. the noise is used entirely in the service of abrasive, challenging songs. and how it is used! they have continued to display moments of genius in their post- washing machine work. they have unfortunately released a glut of product in recent years, only some of it as exciting as their best work. yet to simply dismiss the band, as it has become fashionable to do in indie circles (cf smiths backlash in uk), is just absurd. the best parts of goodbye 20th century are truly great.

pinefox: if it was anything like their montreal set last summer, it must have been divine. could you explain exactly what you dislike about public enemy, sonic youth, and iron maiden? anything beyond "tunelessness?" i am genuinely curious. i'm not even sure that tunefulness is the primary appeal of "to here knows when" or even "suffer little children."

sundar subramanian, Sunday, 10 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

I'm glad Sundar drunkenly stepped in and said something I had been thinking about, but which I hadn't put in a form I wanted to post. In the Sonic Youth I've heard I hear them doing different things, album to album, and usually doing them well, so it irks me slightly to hear so many people cut off the band's output after whatever point.

Josh, Monday, 11 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

Yes, I know there may be difficulties in parsing that. Try.

Josh, Monday, 11 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

On second thought, it's a beautiful piece of prose.

Josh, Monday, 11 June 2001 00:00 (seventeen years ago) Permalink

two years pass...
I'm currently listening to Experimental Jet Set for the first time in years. It's the first Sonic Youth record I ever heard -- the first song I ever heard was "Bull in the Heather" -- and it sounds so beautiful right now. I love that there are so many quiet moments on this record -- but pretty stuff, not pretentious spoken word or nothin'. Thurston even plays an acoustic on the first track! AMG gives it two stars -- underrated, I say.

jaymc (jaymc), Monday, 22 September 2003 03:01 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I just wish that album didn't have "Bull in the Heather" as a lead single. Really always rubbed me the wrong way, one of Kim Gordon's worst moments. And trust me, she's had plenty of great ones! But the way she delivers the chorus...really eh.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Monday, 22 September 2003 03:10 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Hey, as long as this is coming up again, I've become more and more convinced that the first ep is due for a critical reappraisal, especially since its influences are much more "now" than they were when it came out. Fantastic sound, Kim is restrained, cool tension and release. If they put it out today, it'd get filed under post-rock for sure. It doesn't redefine guitar rock, like what came next, but it sounds awfully good these days and really deserves a re-release.

dlp9001, Monday, 22 September 2003 03:18 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

yeah, it's really crazy that the self-titled EP got left behind in the whole onslaught of DGC reissues in the 90's...I remember them talking a few years ago about the idea of re-releasing it on Smells Like, but that never came to be. it's a pretty good record, kind of different from where the went w/ Confusion Is Sex, and I still can't get over the fact that Ferris Beuller's parking attendant played the drums.

Al (sitcom), Monday, 22 September 2003 05:07 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

DN was my fave for several years, but lately I've been listening mostly to Dirty, which rocks like a muthaf@&#$^.

o. nate (onate), Monday, 22 September 2003 12:51 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Experimental Jet Set is way underrated; it's my favorite album of theirs after Sister. I like the first 3-4 songs on Daydream Nation, but then I always turn it off.

My Sonic Youth Top Five:

1. Sister
2. Bad Moon Rising
3. "Kool Thing" (only really great if you read the Kim Gordon profile of LL Cool J for Spin, which inspired it)
4. Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star
5. Goodbye 20th Century

I'm actually shocked nobody brought up that last one, whether pro or con. I think it's fantastic, really beautiful in parts and really ugly/beautiful in others. Much better than any "regular" album they've put out since Goo.

Phil Freeman (Phil Freeman), Monday, 22 September 2003 12:58 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

hmm, I'm surprised by the lack of love for 'Murray Street', which IMO is their best post-Sister album..

Oh and Phil, do you know where I can find that LL profile?

Fabrice (Fabfunk), Monday, 22 September 2003 13:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Wish I did. Run a Google search; maybe some psycho SY fan has scanned it.

Phil Freeman (Phil Freeman), Monday, 22 September 2003 13:41 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

i usually start DN at side two, and then play side three
"Hey Joni" would have to be one of my favourite songs, and it used to be at the bedinning of side three

george gosset (gegoss), Monday, 22 September 2003 15:19 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Fabrice- there is plenty of love for 'murray street' (i do think its one of their very very best though I like everything I've heard, even NYC ghosts and flowers, which I hated at first...but then again i haven't heard all of their recs). There are other SY threads but i don't think george pulled them up (how very naughty of him).

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Monday, 22 September 2003 15:35 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I bought Murray Street solely because the horn players from Borbetomagus appear on one track. What a waste of $15.

Phil Freeman (Phil Freeman), Monday, 22 September 2003 15:37 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

still the best live rock band out there, especially w/ the new o'rourke-ified lineup.

dan (dan), Monday, 22 September 2003 15:41 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

'Murray street' definetely grew on me and its a good companion to 'sister'.

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Monday, 22 September 2003 15:47 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Get him on this thread

pippin drives a lambo through the gates of isengard (Sparkle Motion), Thursday, 21 March 2019 04:17 (one month ago) Permalink

I remember spending hours upon hours pouring over that tuning section despite having no ability to play a guitar. I remember finding it slightly amusing that thurston sorta settled into the pavement tuning as his default.

Western® with Bacon Flavor, Thursday, 21 March 2019 05:11 (one month ago) Permalink

xpost: well G-G-D-D-G-G is basically a 5th power chord; it's going to work over anything in G regardless

linee, Thursday, 21 March 2019 07:23 (one month ago) Permalink

Yeah, that example seems p 'straightforward' in musical terms. G major pentatonic vs G5 makes sense. Generally, it seems like they thought like composers rather than guitarists. xps

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Thursday, 21 March 2019 10:49 (one month ago) Permalink

Generally, it seems like they thought like composers rather than guitarists.

Maybe that's because they started playing in Glenn Branca's guitar ensembles?

EvR, Thursday, 21 March 2019 11:28 (one month ago) Permalink

I mean Thurston and Lee.

EvR, Thursday, 21 March 2019 11:29 (one month ago) Permalink

I honestly think that aspect of their writing is a bit overstated. It's more that the strange tunings freed them up to try new things, whether approaches to actually physically playing the guitar or the sounds the guitar made. I'm not sure how much, I dunno, theory was put to work here.

So yeah, speaking of which, here are a couple of observations we made (my friend really knows guitar, but I do not, so bear with me!). There are some songs where the odd tuning serves a pretty clear purpose. Lee has talked about the "Judy Blue Eyes" tuning (something like EEEEBE), which allowed Stephen Stills to sort of drone along sitar-style with the lower strings while allowing him to play conventional lead with the standard tuning high strings. That's one application of a weird tuning. Another, as I think linee eludes to above, is that even in a tuning the guitars often have a sort of default key that can often be discerned in the song. But the third category of songs were ones we came across where the guitars were weird and yeah, one or both might have had a default key - but the song was still played in a *different* key (I hope that I am explaining that right). That is, what it seems the strange tuning is designed to allow is not what it's being used for, if that makes any sense.

And then I guess there is that extra-odd final category of "Mildred Pierce," which again is literally the only song afaict in virtually the entire catalog that is in standard but ... probably doesn't need to be, because they're just making noise while the bass carries the hook?

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 11:59 (one month ago) Permalink

An intriguing counterpoint to this is a band like Fugazi. Fugazi operates afaict exclusively in standard tuning, but the parts are so creative and well worked out that they're able to imo evince a squall about as diverse and distinctive as Sonic Youth.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:01 (one month ago) Permalink

I remember getting a copy of Guitar Player magazine back around the time of Daydream Nation with an interview and some tabs with tunings and trying out the parts for Silver Rocket. I was kinda shocked upon discovering it was mostly one finger barre chords.

MaresNest, Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:13 (one month ago) Permalink

For the sake of comparison, Live Skull also wrote all of their material in standard tuning; albeit what they were doing was a slightly more hard-rock variant on the 80s NY noise thing. I suppose you can approximate a lot of what SY were doing in standard tuning esp. on their more pop/rock moments, but it's really only an approximation; it'll never sound exactly right - of course, it's a different story when thinking of actually composing this material.

Master of Treacle, Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:17 (one month ago) Permalink

xpost Someone mentioned that 1991 issue, which I couldn't find online but apparently the crux is how *hard* it is to play a lot of the songs in standard!

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:31 (one month ago) Permalink

I'm pretty sure it's this one, despite not mentioning them on the cover -

https://dr-guitar-music.myshopify.com/products/guitar-player-magazine-february-1989-the-art-of-improvisation-cover

MaresNest, Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:34 (one month ago) Permalink

I love stuff like these pictures, where the guitar is labeled not only with tunings, but string gauge specifications! http://www.sonicyouth.com/mustang/eq/gtr124.html

Plinka Trinka Banga Tink (Eliza D.), Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:44 (one month ago) Permalink

Roger Miller from Mission of Burma used a lot of self created alt tunings, feel like he belongs in the convo

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:54 (one month ago) Permalink

though he was definitely the most formally trained guy of any of the ppl mentioned

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 21 March 2019 12:54 (one month ago) Permalink

Yeah, he was classically trained, right?

For wacky tunings it seems that, besides the more obvious folk and blues precursors, it really springs up in the ... '60s? Stephen Stills, Joni Mitchell and really Ry Cooder spearheaded a lot of it, I think, at least in western music. And Davey Graham, Nick Drake, etc. Keith Richards got so much mileage from open G (which he learned from Cooder). And then post-punk there was a mix of primitivism and provocation, probably, with some tunings. "Lost in the Supermarket" is in open E, for some reason. A lot of the English Beat is DADAAD, which Dave Wakeling nicknamed "DAD-ODD" (since he was trying to tune to DADGAD). Mission of Burma (EEEAAA?), Sonic Youth, Pavement all get pretty wacky at times.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 13:12 (one month ago) Permalink

John Fahey

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 21 March 2019 13:18 (one month ago) Permalink

his first stuff was in the 50s

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 21 March 2019 13:18 (one month ago) Permalink

He was inspired by Charlie Patton, right?

Just read that Curtis Mayfield tuned to open F#, to match the black keys on a piano. Then there's Fripp, whose fucked up New Standard Tuning (CGDAEG) is tuned sort of like .... a cello?

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 13:24 (one month ago) Permalink

Some of these can apparently be approximated with a capo, though.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 13:25 (one month ago) Permalink

I forgot about Pavement. On "Cut Your Hair" Spiral is in standard, but Malkmus is in CGDABE. "In The Mouth A Desert" both guitars are GGDGBE.

Plinka Trinka Banga Tink (Eliza D.), Thursday, 21 March 2019 13:34 (one month ago) Permalink

(Wait'll they find out about King Crimson these days: EADGBE, CGDAEG, and CGDAEBF#C#G#D#! In symphony orchestras, some of the strings are tuned in fifths and some in fourths, and then there's the harp!)

Three Word Username, Thursday, 21 March 2019 14:13 (one month ago) Permalink

Yeah, I remember reading that sometimes Belew would retune a random string, just as a challenge.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 14:26 (one month ago) Permalink

Fahey loved early blues 78s, Patton etc but also Indian classical and modern classical...he def did not see himself as part of the folk revival and in fact (aside from in general being a cantankerous dick a lot of the time) held a lot of that in contempt....obv he pitched himself as "American Primitive"...but honestly he's IMO one of the handful of 20th century musicians that was kinda sui generis

like for example, the dissonant but sunny overtones in "Sligo River Blues" seem so modern for something that came out in 1959, like Still, Cooder, Joni or anyone like that was probably just doing rock n roll or hootenanny stuff still in 59

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21HwdNkzYq0

Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Thursday, 21 March 2019 14:31 (one month ago) Permalink

I didn't mean that Thurston and Lee had studied classical theory or anything but that the musical ideas seem like they came before the guitar chops, whether they arose from experimentation or from something more thought-out. We're doing something in G: why not tune one guitar to a pentatonic scale and the other to a six-string power chord. Makes sense if you're thinking about (or hearing/feeling) the key of G but counter-intuitive if you're used to playing in G on a standard guitar and your fingers know where to go. It does get you voicings and timbres you wouldn't get in standard, though.

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Thursday, 21 March 2019 14:37 (one month ago) Permalink

I might be able to scan some of those pages from the Aug 91 issue w TM on the cover later on btw. I finally found a copy a little while ago after some searching.

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Thursday, 21 March 2019 14:42 (one month ago) Permalink

Thurston and Lee were definitely coming from the "fuck it, sounds cool" approach. It was a deliberately primitive technical approach that made more expansive music possible than they could have pulled off with their traditional guitar skills.

Three Word Username, Thursday, 21 March 2019 14:46 (one month ago) Permalink

Unwound is another band that used some weird tunings.

Western® with Bacon Flavor, Thursday, 21 March 2019 15:30 (one month ago) Permalink

Polvo too

kolarov spring (NickB), Thursday, 21 March 2019 15:37 (one month ago) Permalink

The Rolling Stones and the Velvet Underground. EVERYBODY.

Three Word Username, Thursday, 21 March 2019 16:03 (one month ago) Permalink

Following on from some thoughts from above in re the approaches / reasons why the SY tunings ended up they way they did, they have gone on record more than a few times to just stress that each new tuning was a new song for a while (or an opportunity for one). So, you can imagine, either Thurston or Lee fucks with a new tuning and suddenly a whole bunch of new riffs / chord progressions come out (that require no new fingerings or technical approaches as the tuning itself adds all the new voicings etc.) Pretty liberating, especially if you grew up in the era when they did and you saw the electric guitar get mastered and canonized in many many ways by the time it came to them to contribute. New tunings would be an easy way to attempt bypass a lot of that baggage / history (at least mentally). But yeah, relating to another thought above, I am sure a new tuning led to the immediate things that were possible in the "key" of the combined two-guitar approach, and then once you move through some of that obvious territory playing within that tuning in a different key would be the logical next step as you explore the tunings. (Sorry, I am sure I am retreading a lot here, but as someone who plays in alternate tunings myself, that I created on the fly without referencing other tunings, I relate very heavily to this. Sonic Youth was definitely my template as well, as far as the mentality and approach.)

grandavis, Thursday, 21 March 2019 16:05 (one month ago) Permalink

What I'm trying to say is that alternate tunings are very common and can be used in a number of different ways. SY's rhythmic approach and deliberate inexact tuning (because they liked the sound of unison notes slightly-out-of-tune) are a bigger part of who they are than their tunings -- to say nothing of Kim's approach to bass playing and singing. (x-post.)

Three Word Username, Thursday, 21 March 2019 16:08 (one month ago) Permalink

There are weird tunings, and then there are WEIRD TUNINGS. Like the kind that distress your guitars and break strings and stuff. Most bands don't go that far.

Josh in Chicago, Thursday, 21 March 2019 16:09 (one month ago) Permalink

Oh yeah, agreed Three Word Username. Blues, slack key / Hawaiian music, any lap / table / pedal steel instrument, lots of folk music, etc. etc. etc. SY's take on it certainly a bigger part of it (more a blunt object than intricate exploration) than just the tunings themselves. It is also very clear that Kim drove a lot of aspects of the sounds. Her playing rules.

grandavis, Thursday, 21 March 2019 16:41 (one month ago) Permalink

The big difference between American primitive/blues/grass tuning and noisy indie rock is that the fingerpicking forms use tuning for melodic effect - to make a bassline practical for the thumb, to make it easier to hit certain notes in arpeggios. The weird tuning in rock are mostly about texture and the effects of amplification. - maximizing the discordant, then quickly finding harmony, or falling into drone with lots a overtones.

bendy, Thursday, 21 March 2019 17:10 (one month ago) Permalink

(tho' yeah, Fahey and disciples also tune for drone...)

bendy, Thursday, 21 March 2019 17:12 (one month ago) Permalink

...and Sonic Youth arpeggiate all the time, so what were you saying?

Three Word Username, Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:01 (one month ago) Permalink

Sonic Youth style tunings aren't generally useful for fingerpicking styles where you're doing a bassline and melody on one instrument, and fingerpicking style tunings aren't generally useful to get the dramatic shifts in tone and texture of a noisy band.

bendy, Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:24 (one month ago) Permalink

Given that I think the best proof that what you say here is wrong are the very examples you use to argue for this point -- SY and Fahey -- I think I'll just leave you to your ears.

Three Word Username, Thursday, 21 March 2019 18:58 (one month ago) Permalink

There are weird tunings, and then there are WEIRD TUNINGS. Like the kind that distress your guitars and break strings and stuff. Most bands don't go that far.

Yeah, I do think tunings like F#F#GGAA go further than the tunings that Jimmy Page or Joni Mitchell used (and are related to the deliberately inexact approach to tuning mentioned above; when e.g. you tune in not-quite-unison pairs, it is easier to have beat tones ringing every time you strum open strings.)

When I played in Branca's 13th btw, he asked us to bring our cheapest guitar and specified string gauges (I think I had 2 low Es, 2 middle Es, 2 high Es?)

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Thursday, 21 March 2019 19:10 (one month ago) Permalink

Right, the tunings are designed to create weird, dissonant overtones.

Mario Meatwagon (Moodles), Thursday, 21 March 2019 21:43 (one month ago) Permalink

barely anyone covers SY but i don't know — because the tunings/overtones would be tough to re-create, it might be interesting for people to just try out the songs in different forms/modes ... (my high school band played "silver rocket" in standard tuning)

tylerw, Thursday, 21 March 2019 21:57 (one month ago) Permalink

Some of the Sonic Youth guitar pics will have the string gauges on the back of the headstock if you match it up to the song/tuning that guitar was used on.

Greta Van Show Feets BB (milo z), Thursday, 21 March 2019 22:07 (one month ago) Permalink

Nels Cline did a nice big band version of "Snare, Girl" on Lovers.

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Thursday, 21 March 2019 22:37 (one month ago) Permalink

People sometimes slag off their 'tuneless' singing, and I'm not going to make any great claims for their vocal chops, but it did occur to me some time ago that it would be a lot harder to sing 'in tune' over dense chords of detuned strings than over idk "Amazed" by Lonestar.

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Thursday, 21 March 2019 22:54 (one month ago) Permalink

Danish guy plays about 150 acoustic, instrumental Sonic Youth covers:

http://www.youtube.com/user/nvanliforp/videos

Hideous Lump, Friday, 22 March 2019 04:52 (four weeks ago) Permalink

Oh yeah, I linked him a year ago. (I thought he was from Chile then, for some reason.) A lot of it works, esp later material.

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Friday, 22 March 2019 09:34 (four weeks ago) Permalink

This one immediately came to mind:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crcc42h5Ouc

Josh in Chicago, Friday, 22 March 2019 11:56 (four weeks ago) Permalink

Not this one?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkvbWzRes6w

Jersey Al (Albert R. Broccoli), Friday, 22 March 2019 15:40 (four weeks ago) Permalink

"Mildred Pierce," which again is literally the only song afaict in virtually the entire catalog that is in standard but ... probably doesn't need to be, because they're just making noise while the bass carries the hook?

I don't think this is accurate btw. The guitarists play fairly straightforward punk/postpunk riffs (and even do that triplet figure) for the whole thing until the last 30s. The power chords do sound pretty 'normal' compared to how SY usually play open fifths imo.

All along there is the sound of feedback (Sund4r), Monday, 25 March 2019 16:09 (three weeks ago) Permalink


You must be logged in to post. Please either login here, or if you are not registered, you may register here.