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Sonic Youth – Washing Machine

Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Washing Machine (1995)

Washing Machine (1995)

I’ve always considered Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine, released in 1995, to be their best post-Daydream Nation album. Here’s why.

One of the reasons is due to memory. I bought Washing Machine last summer. I listened to it constantly in my car on my way to a local community college, thirty minutes each way. Every time I listen to it now, the memories of that time come flooding back – a rainy day before a test, a trip with a friend to Panda Express, the hot Oklahoma interstate. All of these time, Washing Machine was blaring. Because of Washing Machine, I can reflect on this time of my life just by popping the CD in.

But back to the album itself. I’ve read some reviews of Washing Machine that faulted the album for having no particular sound. Balderdash. The fuzzy, reverby, and even watery sound is present throughout the entire album. Sonic Youth excels on Washing Machine just as much as they have in past in creating a unique sound for a album never attempted by any other artist, with the possible exception of Dirty in 1992 for its grunge influences.

It starts of solid with “Becuz.” “Becuz” is a mixture between traditional, noisy Sonic Youth with the breakdown in the middle, and more melodic strains explored thoroughly in previous albums. Like Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth find a way to blend their chaotic, noisy past with the demands of the mainstream, only in an entirely different way. In this respect, Washing Machine has done what the much more famous Daydream Nation has also done, only from a different perspective.

Track three, “Saucer-Like,” has an amazing intro. Thurston sounds like he’s singing underwater here, as did Kim Gordon in “Becuz.” All of the songs have the peculiar quality – perhaps something to do with the production. Track four, “Washing Machine,” is one of Gordon’s greatest successes.

In fact, this album is a large testament to her creativity, as she stars in most of the album’s most successful moments.  “Washing Machine” is an eight minute epic. “Epic” might not be the right word. But the sonic effects created by the band here are extraordinary, especially around minute six towrads the end.

Track five, “Unwind,” is suitably named – it is relaxing, soft, yet somehow off-putting. A strange combination of words, I know, but Sonic youth can do things with their instruments and lyrics that make those words blend together like the strains of their music.

A definite highlight on the album comes with track six, “Little Trouble Girl,” a duet between Kim Gordon and Kim Deal, the latter the bassist from The Pixies guest singing for the song. Two Kims, two bassists, two girls, from two high influential alternative acts – who could ask for more? The song itself is strange, haunting, and beautiful. I am enthralled with this track and Sonic Youth’s ability to create such a moody atmosphere that almost defies words to describe. Put side by side, Deal is the stronger singer, but people don’t listen to Sonic Youth for the singing. It goes beyond that.

Following “Little Trouble Girl” is “No Queen Blues,” the hardest rocking song on the album. Thurston Moore destroys on this track. The bluesy feel it showcases is not often attempted by Sonic Youth. But blended with their noise, Sonic youth take blues to a whole other level. And of course, the complete noise breakdown towards the end is classic.

The rest of the songs are not really worth mention. Except one.

“The Diamond Sea.” Ahh, yes. This song is often pointed to as Sonic Youth’s last hurrah during their relatively mainstream stint from Goo in 1990 to Washing Machine in 1995.  Now this is a song which could deservedly be called epic! The lyrics are sung in Thruston’s husky, pleading voice about what seems to be a marriage or relationship gone awry and based on deceit and selfishness.

The mood Sonic Youth creates with their music perfectly reflects the lyrics, “Look into his eyes and you will see / that men are not alone on the diamond sea / sail into the heart of a lonely storm / and tell her you’ll love her eternally.” The relationship is one in which the couple cannot be honest with one another, so while one is beset with loneliness and the other has image problems, they are both too self-centered to meet each others needs or accept one another. There are other themes, of course, which I will leave to you, the listener, to discover on your own.

Washing Machine is an absolute must for anyone claiming to be a Sonic Youth fan. Washing Machine is an absolute must for anyone interested in Sonic Youth. Lastly, Washing Machine is an absolute must for anyone claiming to be a fan of music. That might be too far, but that is my humble opinion.

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