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Alternative & Indie - Released July 21, 1992 | Geffen

Hi-Res Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 1994 | DGC

Distinctions Stereophile: Record To Die For
Whereas Dirty and its predecessors were loud, distorted, and bordering on the fine line between pop and noise, Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star did away with the ear-bleeding guitar feedback so often attributed to the group. The group retained its quirky twist on pop/rock song structures, moving even closer to a consistent use of the verse-chorus-verse template. Of course, the disregard for mosh-friendly guitar riffs, lack of crowd-surfing intensity, and increasing traces of normalcy killed a large part of the group's momentous surge in popular acceptance, damning them once again to the status of often misunderstood artists. Popular opinion may have wanted more rock than what Sonic Youth wanted to deliver on this album, yet upon careful inspection, Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star still out-noises the majority of its peers. Butch Vig's clean production makes the album seem clean, when in actuality it is nearly as dirty as the group's preceding effort. Songs such as "Starfield Road" and the acoustic song "Winner's Blues" emanate plenty of raw spontaneity, even with Vig's crystal clear production. Relative to Sonic Youth's greater body of work, the album does seem rather sedate, though. The noises resonate subtly rather than mangle one's eardrum. In sum, this record must be considered the closest the group has ever gone to straight-ahead pop/rock. With all of the feedback, murky production, incoherent song structuring, and rambunctious charisma stripped away, what remains are odd lyrics and unique guitar nuance. In other words, Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star features the underlying foundation of the group's music standing naked, without any of their traditionally excessive static to heighten it. © Jason Birchmeier /TiVo
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Goo

Rock - Released January 1, 2005 | Geffen

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Sonic Youth entered the 1990s with their place in music history assured. By applying standards of cacophony cribbed from their original No Wave peers and concepts of alternate tuning pioneered by avant-garde classical composers Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca to ferociously rocking songs, the NYC-based quartet had already renewed the potential of guitar-based rock music. But on Goo, their second major label release, they determined to seize the brass ring of pop stardom without giving up their abrasive sound and owned by no one stance. The hooks of "Dirty Boots" and "Kool Thing" may have been bigger and bolder, but the rackets they churned up on "Mote" and "Scooter and Jinx" (which is composed of the sound of Thurston Moore's guitar amp blowing up) were as dense as ever. All three of the band's singers brought indelible melodies, but a pair of tunes voiced by bassist Kim Gordon most effectively managed to both embrace pop culture and subject it to skeptical analysis. The subject matter of "Tunic (Song For Karen)"—Karen Carpenter's death from anorexia nervosa—was bound to grab attention. But instead of a punk trashing of an MOR figure, it delivers an astute and compassionate view of the family dynamics that contributed to Carpenter's illness. The song's image of Carpenter jamming in a heavenly band with Jimi Hendrix pushed back against sexist diminutions of her talents. And "Kool Thing" simultaneously celebrated the rapper LL Cool J, took him to task for his sexism, and poked a little fun at Gordon's own politics. Grand Funk Railroad may have proclaimed, "We're an American Band," but Goo may be the most American record album ever. For what could be more American than wanting to have it all? © Bill Meyer/Qobuz
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Goo

Rock - Released January 1, 1990 | Geffen

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Sonic Youth entered the 1990s with their place in music history assured. By applying standards of cacophony cribbed from their original No Wave peers and concepts of alternate tuning pioneered by avant-garde classical composers Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca to ferociously rocking songs, the NYC-based quartet had already renewed the potential of guitar-based rock music. But on Goo, their second major label release, they determined to seize the brass ring of pop stardom without giving up their abrasive sound and owned by no one stance. The hooks of "Dirty Boots" and "Kool Thing" may have been bigger and bolder, but the rackets they churned up on "Mote" and "Scooter and Jinx" (which is composed of the sound of Thurston Moore's guitar amp blowing up) were as dense as ever. All three of the band's singers brought indelible melodies, but a pair of tunes voiced by bassist Kim Gordon most effectively managed to both embrace pop culture and subject it to skeptical analysis. The subject matter of "Tunic (Song For Karen)"—Karen Carpenter's death from anorexia nervosa—was bound to grab attention. But instead of a punk trashing of an MOR figure, it delivers an astute and compassionate view of the family dynamics that contributed to Carpenter's illness. The song's image of Carpenter jamming in a heavenly band with Jimi Hendrix pushed back against sexist diminutions of her talents. And "Kool Thing" simultaneously celebrated the rapper LL Cool J, took him to task for his sexism, and poked a little fun at Gordon's own politics. Grand Funk Railroad may have proclaimed, "We're an American Band," but Goo may be the most American record album ever. For what could be more American than wanting to have it all? © Bill Meyer/Qobuz
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Goo

Rock - Released March 21, 1990 | Geffen

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Sonic Youth entered the 1990s with their place in music history assured. By applying standards of cacophony cribbed from their original No Wave peers and concepts of alternate tuning pioneered by avant-garde classical composers Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca to ferociously rocking songs, the NYC-based quartet had already renewed the potential of guitar-based rock music. But on Goo, their second major label release, they determined to seize the brass ring of pop stardom without giving up their abrasive sound and owned by no one stance. The hooks of "Dirty Boots" and "Kool Thing" may have been bigger and bolder, but the rackets they churned up on "Mote" and "Scooter and Jinx" (which is composed of the sound of Thurston Moore's guitar amp blowing up) were as dense as ever. All three of the band's singers brought indelible melodies, but a pair of tunes voiced by bassist Kim Gordon most effectively managed to both embrace pop culture and subject it to skeptical analysis. The subject matter of "Tunic (Song For Karen)"—Karen Carpenter's death from anorexia nervosa—was bound to grab attention. But instead of a punk trashing of an MOR figure, it delivers an astute and compassionate view of the family dynamics that contributed to Carpenter's illness. The song's image of Carpenter jamming in a heavenly band with Jimi Hendrix pushed back against sexist diminutions of her talents. And "Kool Thing" simultaneously celebrated the rapper LL Cool J, took him to task for his sexism, and poked a little fun at Gordon's own politics. Grand Funk Railroad may have proclaimed, "We're an American Band," but Goo may be the most American record album ever. For what could be more American than wanting to have it all? © Bill Meyer/Qobuz
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Rock - Released September 26, 1995 | Geffen

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Rock - Released June 13, 2006 | Geffen

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Rock - Released June 8, 2004 | Geffen

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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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released May 5, 1998 | Geffen

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Rock - Released June 10, 2002 | Geffen

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Alternative & Indie - Released June 7, 2019 | Matador

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Rock - Released January 1, 1998 | DGC

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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released May 16, 2000 | Geffen

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Rock - Released July 21, 1992 | Geffen

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Rock - Released January 1, 2002 | Geffen

Virtually every album Sonic Youth has released since the underrated Goo has been hailed as a return to form. However, Murray Street, their second collaboration with Jim O'Rourke (and their first with him as a full member of the group), not only recalls their past glories but explores new territory. Freed from the trendy agendas that marred A Thousand Leaves and NYC Ghosts & Flowers, the group revisits the complex, transcendent guitar epics that made them underground rock heroes in the first place. But Murray Street doesn't just rehash the sound of their late-'80s heyday, either; for the most part, epics like the '60s-tinged "The Empty Page" and "Rain on Tin" -- which sounds a bit like a rural cousin to Television's "Marquee Moon" -- are built on surprisingly clean, crisp guitar tones that only explode into occasional noise-storms. Indeed, the guitar work on the album's first three tracks is both economical and sensual, a feast of textures and counterpoints that never sounds overdone. Murray Street's wonderfully natural yet intricate sound is O'Rourke's most distinctive contribution to the group; while his work with Smog and Wilco pushed those groups to be more experimental and eclectic, with Sonic Youth he seems to give those tendencies focus and balance. Even the hypnotic drones at the end of "Karen Revisited," the album's noisy, oddly romantic centerpiece, have a unique precision and clarity. Murray Street's first four songs rank among the most consistent, and consistently exciting, work in Sonic Youth's career, so much so that the album's shorter, more rock-oriented songs feel a bit anticlimactic. "Plastic Sun," a Kim Gordon-sung rant, feels particularly out of keeping with the rest of Murray Street's warm, expansive tone; "Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style" is a typical Sonic Youth rocker that suffers merely from not being as good as the first half of the album. Closing with the serenely sexy "Sympathy for the Strawberry," Murray Street reaffirms that at the group's best, Sonic Youth manages to sound fresh and timeless all at once. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released January 1, 1992 | DGC

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 /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2006 | Geffen

Devoted to the more open-ended rarities that have gathered in Sonic Youth's discography in the decade spanning from Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star to Sonic Nurse, The Destroyed Room serves as a reminder that even the band's sketches and non-album tracks remain fascinating. Pieces like the Murray Street outtake "Fauhemians" and "Campfire," which originally appeared in the 1999 collection At Home with the Groovebox and sounds like static kisses, are great examples of Sonic Youth's ability to make dissonant, weird, and otherwise unexpected sounds feel soothing (something they've done especially well in recent years). Likewise, "Fire Engine Dream," the ten-minute Sonic Nurse-era jam that kicks off The Destroyed Room, is pretty subtle despite its hypnotic fuzz; along with the shimmering sound collage "Loop Cat," it shows that the band's seemingly far-flung experiments are balanced with structure and restraint. Given that many of the tracks here ended up tucked away as bonus tracks on Japanese editions of albums, or on the cutting-room floor, it's understandable that an unfinished feel pervades The Destroyed Room. This incompeleteness is by no means a bad thing, though, especially on the twangy, off-the-cuff Experimental Jet Set snippet "Razor Blade" and the beautiful "Kim's Chords," an instrumental full of changing moods and Sonic Youth's distinctive ebb and flow. There are also a few fleshed-out but hard to find songs here, chief among them "Blink," the band's contribution to the soundtrack to Pola X, Leos Carax's 1999 experimental film noir, and the (very) full, 25-minute long version of "The Diamond Sea," which emphasizes the avant jam band feel they've cultivated in later years. Just as this collection's name and artwork turn the rock cliché of trashing a room into a work of art, The Destroyed Room is a creative -- and quintessentially Sonic Youth -- approach to the rarities and B-sides comp. © Heather Phares /TiVo
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Goo

Rock - Released March 21, 1990 | Geffen

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Sonic Youth entered the 1990s with their place in music history assured. By applying standards of cacophony cribbed from their original No Wave peers and concepts of alternate tuning pioneered by avant-garde classical composers Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca to ferociously rocking songs, the NYC-based quartet had already renewed the potential of guitar-based rock music. But on Goo, their second major label release, they determined to seize the brass ring of pop stardom without giving up their abrasive sound and owned by no one stance. The hooks of "Dirty Boots" and "Kool Thing" may have been bigger and bolder, but the rackets they churned up on "Mote" and "Scooter and Jinx" (which is composed of the sound of Thurston Moore's guitar amp blowing up) were as dense as ever. All three of the band's singers brought indelible melodies, but a pair of tunes voiced by bassist Kim Gordon most effectively managed to both embrace pop culture and subject it to skeptical analysis. The subject matter of "Tunic (Song For Karen)"—Karen Carpenter's death from anorexia nervosa—was bound to grab attention. But instead of a punk trashing of an MOR figure, it delivers an astute and compassionate view of the family dynamics that contributed to Carpenter's illness. The song's image of Carpenter jamming in a heavenly band with Jimi Hendrix pushed back against sexist diminutions of her talents. And "Kool Thing" simultaneously celebrated the rapper LL Cool J, took him to task for his sexism, and poked a little fun at Gordon's own politics. Grand Funk Railroad may have proclaimed, "We're an American Band," but Goo may be the most American record album ever. For what could be more American than wanting to have it all? © Bill Meyer/Qobuz