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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 2003 | Geffen

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
When DGC Records signed Nirvana in 1991, one of DGC's A&R reps expressed the opinion that, with plenty of touring and the right promotion, the new act might sell as well as its labelmate and touring partner Sonic Youth. The surprise success of Nevermind upended previous commercial expectations for Sonic Youth (among other established alternative rock bands), and when Dirty was released in 1992, it was seen by many as the band's big move toward the grunge market. Which doesn't make a lot of sense if you actually listen to the album; while Butch Vig's clean but full-bodied production certainly gave Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo's guitars greater punch and presence than they had in the past, and many of the songs move in the increasingly tuneful direction the band had been traveling with Daydream Nation and Goo, most of Dirty is good bit more jagged and purposefully discordant than its immediate precursors, lacking the same hallucinatory grace as Daydream Nation or the hard rock sheen of Goo. If anything, Dirty finds Sonic Youth revisiting the territory the band mapped out on Sister -- merging the propulsive structures of rock (both punk and otherwise) with the gorgeous chaos of their approach to the electric guitar -- and it shows how much better they'd gotten at it in the past five years, from the curiously beautiful "Wish Fulfillment" and "Theresa's Sound World" to the brutal "Drunken Butterfly" and "Purr." Dirty was also Sonic Youth's most overtly political album, railing against the abuses of the Reagan/Bush era on "Youth Against Fascism," "Swimsuit Issue," and "Chapel Hill," a surprising move from a band so often in love with cryptic irony. Heard today, Dirty doesn't sound like a masterpiece (like Daydream Nation) or a gesture toward the mainstream audience (like Goo) -- it just sounds like a damn good rock album, and on those terms it ranks with Sonic Youth's best work. ~ Mark Deming
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Goo

Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Geffen

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Any doubts as to the continuing relevance of Sonic Youth upon their jump to major-label status were quickly laid to rest by Goo, their follow-up to the monumental Daydream Nation. While paling in the shadow of its predecessor, the record is nevertheless a defiant call to arms against mainstream musical values; the Geffen logo adorning the disc is a moot point -- Goo is, if anything, a portrait of Sonic Youth at their most self-indulgently noisy and contentious, covering topics ranging from Karen Carpenter ("Tunic") to UFOs ("Disappearer") to dating Jesus' mom ("Mary-Christ"). Even Public Enemy's Chuck D joins the fracas on the single "Kool Thing," which teeters on the brink of a cultural breakthrough but falls just shy of the mark; the same could be said of Goo itself -- by no means a sellout, it nevertheless lacks the coherence and force of the group's finest work, and the opportunity to violently rattle the mainstream cage slips by. ~ Jason Ankeny
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Goo

Rock - Released January 1, 1990 | Geffen Records

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 7, 2019 | Matador

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Goo

Alternative & Indie - Released March 21, 1990 | Geffen Records

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Rock - Released September 26, 1995 | Geffen Records

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 8, 2009 | Matador

If anyone thought Sonic Youth were getting a little too comfortable, The Eternal proved they weren't afraid of change, even as they closed in on 30 years of making music together. The Eternal is Sonic Youth's first album for legendary indie label Matador Records after a nearly 20-year stint with Geffen Records, which dovetails nicely with the fact that this is also the band's first album with former Pavement bassist (and Matador alum) Mark Ibold. Sonic Youth even changed their usual songwriting approach, writing and recording tracks in quick batches instead of planning an entire song cycle at once. Dust wasn't allowed to settle on these songs, nor could it -- the most striking thing about The Eternal is how hard it rocks. The contemplative haze that drifted over Murray Street, Sonic Nurse, and to a lesser extent Rather Ripped is blasted away by opening track "Sacred Trickster"'s lunging, massive guitars and Kim Gordon's demand to be pressed up against an amp. The rest of the band sounds revitalized, too: Lee Ranaldo's excellent "What We Know" is a furious yet complex rocker, and Thurston Moore sounds like the leader of the gang on "Thunderclap for Bobby Pyn," which name-drops the Heaven's Gate cult and the alias of Germs singer Darby Crash between its "whoa-oh" and "yeah yeah"-fueled choruses. This is the heaviest Sonic Youth have been since Sister, and it's fitting that their return to the indie world touches on their SST days. That's not the only era they revisit, however. "Poison Arrow"'s skronky grind evokes Dirty's sexier moments; "Antenna"'s radio love turns Murray Street's sun-streaked drones into epic pop; and "Calming the Snake"'s tumbling, atonal riffing suggests summery menace as much as it does Sonic Youth's no wave roots. While there's a little bit of almost everything that has made Sonic Youth great over the years, the band hasn't put these elements together in precisely this way before. Considering how expansive their last few albums for Geffen were, The Eternal's relatively concise songs also set it apart, but when Sonic Youth do stretch out, it's with purpose. "Anti-Orgasm" begins as a duet/duel between Gordon and Moore, who trade challenges and come-ons over free-falling guitars that become a rolling, slow-motion excursion; the track's instrumental interplay is more violent, and more sensual, than its words. "Massage the History" is even more vast, encompassing fragile acoustic strumming, distortion storms, and dead calm over its nearly ten-minute expanse. While The Eternal doesn't flow quite as effortlessly as some Sonic Youth albums, it's perfectly balanced, its raw moments tempered by the subtle "Walkin Blue" and "Malibu Gas Station," which creeps so imperceptibly toward its raging guitars that they're almost unnoticed until you're caught in their undercurrent. Sonic Youth's freedom to follow their bliss is what holds The Eternal together; just as paradoxically, the changes they make on this album not only bring excitement to their music, they reaffirm just how consistently good the band has been -- and continues to be -- over the years. ~ Heather Phares
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Rock - Released June 8, 2004 | Geffen

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Picking up where Murray Street's languid experimentalism left off, Sonic Youth's somewhat awkwardly named Sonic Nurse shows that the band still sounds revitalized, and may have even tapped into a more fruitful creative streak than they did on their previous album. Anyone who has stuck with Sonic Youth this long knows more or less what to expect from them, but the group still has the potential to surprise; one of Sonic Nurse's biggest surprises is the return of Kim Gordon. She had a relatively limited presence on NYC Ghosts & Flowers and Murray Street, but she's back in a big way on this album, contributing four tracks; not coincidentally, Gordon's songs are among the strongest on the album. "Pattern Recognition" gets Sonic Nurse off to a strong start and ranks among her best rock songs, falling somewhere between "Kool Thing" and "Bull in the Heather" in its icy-hot appeal. Her quieter songs have just as much impact: "Dude Ranch Nurse" boasts an oddly timeless guitar lick and lyrics ("Let me ride you till you fall/Let's pretend that there's nothing at all") that blur the line between alluring and nihilistic. "I Love You Golden Blue" is another standout, a beautiful but bleak ballad with ghostly vocals that recall Nico at her most fragile. Of course, the rest of the band finds moments to shine: Thurston Moore's "Dripping Dream" begins as absurdist, angular rock (although he still has the ability to make phrases like "We've been searching for the cream dream wax" sound like the coolest thing ever) and stretches out into a beautiful epic, with the interplay of feedback and guitar lines giving it a comet-tail majesty. "Paper Cup Exit," the requisite Lee Ranaldo track, has a sharper-edged mix of noise and melody than most of Sonic Nurse. Another of the album's surprises is how much of its inspiration seems to come from the band's late-'80s/early-'90s material. It's not just that the band slams George W. Bush on the mellow protest song "Peace Attack," just as Dirty's "Youth Against Fascism" railed against the first President Bush, or that they peer into the void of pop culture on "Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream" as they did on Goo's Karen Carpenter tribute, "Tunic." On songs like "New Hampshire" -- which could pass for a lost track from Daydream Nation -- Sonic Youth actually sound younger and more enthusiastic than they have in a few albums. All told, this album is probably the band's best balance of pop melodies and avant-leaning structures since Washing Machine; even if it doesn't rank among their most ambitious work, Sonic Nurse sounds like the kind of album Sonic Youth should be making at this point in their career. ~ Heather Phares
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Rock - Released June 10, 2002 | Geffen Records

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Rock - Released May 5, 1998 | Geffen Records

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Truth be told, the grunge era never quite fit Sonic Youth. They may have been at the peak of their popularity, but they had traded their experimentalism for sheer, bracing noise. It may have sounded good, but ultimately Dirty didn't have the cerebral impact of Sister, largely because it was tied to an admittedly effective backbeat. Beginning with Washing Machine, Sonic Youth returned to more adventurous territory, and in 1997, they released a series of EPs that illustrated their bond with such post-rock groups as Tortoise and Gastr del Sol. Those EPs, as well as the epic Washing Machine closer, "The Diamond Sea," provide the foundation for A Thousand Leaves, the band's most challenging and satisfying record in years. The blasts of dissonance that characterized their SST masterworks have been replaced, by and large, by winding, intricate improvisations. There's a surprising warmth to the subdued guitars of Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Kim Gordon, which keeps the lengthy songs captivating. Both Moore and Ranaldo concentrate on quiet material, which almost makes Gordon's noisy politicized rants sound a little out of place, but her best moments ("French Tickler," "Heather Angel") have unsettling, unpredictable twists and turns that greatly contribute to the success of A Thousand Leaves. It may be their most cerebral album in ages, but that only makes it all the more engaging. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1992 | DGC

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Rock - Released January 1, 1995 | Geffen Records

After the regressive, low-key Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star, Sonic Youth appeared to be floundering somewhat, but Washing Machine erased any notion that the band had run out of things to say. Easily their most adventurous, challenging, and best record since Daydream Nation, the album finds Sonic Youth returning to the fearless exploration of their SST records, but the group has found a way to work that into tighter song structures. Not only are the songs more immediate than most of the material on their earlier records, the sound here is warm and open, making Washing Machine their most mature and welcoming record to date. It's not a commercial record, nor is it a pop record, but Washing Machine encompasses everything that made Sonic Youth innovators, and shows that they can continue to grow, finding new paths inside their signature sound. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released May 16, 2000 | Geffen Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2006 | Geffen Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | Geffen Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 2002 | Geffen Records

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Rock - Released January 1, 1995 | Geffen Records

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Goo

Rock - Released March 21, 1990 | Geffen Records

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Any doubts as to the continuing relevance of Sonic Youth upon their jump to major-label status were quickly laid to rest by Goo, their follow-up to the monumental Daydream Nation. While paling in the shadow of its predecessor, the record is nevertheless a defiant call to arms against mainstream musical values; the Geffen logo adorning the disc is a moot point -- Goo is, if anything, a portrait of Sonic Youth at their most self-indulgently noisy and contentious, covering topics ranging from Karen Carpenter ("Tunic") to UFOs ("Disappearer") to dating Jesus' mom ("Mary-Christ"). Even Public Enemy's Chuck D joins the fracas on the single "Kool Thing," which teeters on the brink of a cultural breakthrough but falls just shy of the mark; the same could be said of Goo itself -- by no means a sellout, it nevertheless lacks the coherence and force of the group's finest work, and the opportunity to violently rattle the mainstream cage slips by. ~ Jason Ankeny
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Rock - Released June 8, 2004 | Geffen

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Rock - Released July 21, 1992 | Geffen Records

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