The Two Sides of Sonic Youth
I suppose, if I wanted to be cool, I’d claim that I’m more fond of the early Sonic Youth albums where they are pure noise, and cut tracks with the likes of Lydia Lunch. But my heart is always with a good hook and a catchy melody, and as much as they don’t want to admit it, Sonic Youth, underneath all those layers of noise, has a lot of both.
Is it a coincidence that Sonic Youth put out “Daydream Nation,” their first album that leans ever so slightly into their pop sensibilities, after moonlighting as Ciccone Youth, a Madonna cover band that features Mike Watt of the Minutemen and J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr.? They weren’t mocking Madonna — she came up in the same hip NYC circles they did — but, before this record, they didn’t sound anything like her. After, well, maybe they were a little friendlier towards a melody, a little fonder of a groove that draws the listener in, instead of coolly alienating them.
Or maybe it was the influence of Mike Watt, who always writes music to make people happy, even when it makes people sad.
I don’t know. I’m spitballing here. But I can say that this album is a capital-R rock album, with fat riffs and real jams. And it opened the door to albums like “Goo” and “Dirty” that truly defined the sound of “alternative rock” in the 90s, though they would probably walk off a bridge rather than own that term. They proved that you don’t have to choose between noisy and rocking. And every band you like that’s been deemed “noise” ever since learned from them. The candle in the dark art was more apt than they could have ever guessed at the time.