[This review originally appeared on Blogcritics. To see it there, click here.]
It’s 1987 and a new force is taking over music. Since the early eighties, Sonic Youth had been gaining steam in the noise and alternative scene, and in 1991 all it took is the spark of Nirvana to set the revolution off. But four years before that fateful event changed the alternative dream forever, Sonic Youth released Sister, continuing in the vein of their previous releases of EVOL and Bad Moon Rising by experimenting, ironically, by making their music catchier and more accessible.
But don’t make the mistake by thinking this is an easy album to listen to.
Sister is absolutely brilliant and should not by any measure be taken lightly. I almost want to say “shame on you” to all the owners of Daydream Nation that have yet to dive back into Sonic Youth’s catalog and explore this album of utter, psychotic brilliance.
Speaking of psychotic, the album kicks off with the rocking opener, “Schizophrenia,” a trippy dirge of alternate guitar tunings and strange chords that give its driving beat a sort of madness. Despite being off-putting, “Schizophrenia” is also eerily calming. I can’t really do it justice by mere explanation – the song is absolutely brilliant.
“(I Got A) Catholic Block” is, hands down, one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard. Its angry, honest, and I want to even say primeval sounding, because it somehow touches something deep and instinctual, repressed since the dawn of human consciousness. If I could use one word to describe the song, it would probably just be “intense,” as cliche and overused that word is used to describe music. Anyway, just like the first song, I feel like I’m failing miserably at describing its greatness.
Track four, “Stereo Sanctity” is yet another highlight of Sister. Like “Catholic Block,” it has an eerie, intense, driving beat that makes me feel fire in my belly, but if you were to ask me why it did, I wouldn’t be able to explain. Sonic Youth is, to me, more intense than any metal music out there. Though it’s not as heavy, just what they do with their notes and their blasts of noise just sort of throws me off and shakes my perception of how I see things. Any music like that entrances me.
Probably the most ethereal song on the album is track seven, “Pacific Coast Highway.” Kim Gordon does well here – most of the songs she writes for the band don’t really do it for me, but she has her occasional moments of brilliance. “Pacific Coast Highway” is one example of that. Starting off hard and intense, it eases and slows, then going back to its original intensity. It’s just a cool song.
Love it or hate it, there’s a song after “Pacific Coast Highway” called “Hot Wire My Heart” that is a demented sort of pop. I like the song, but at first couldn’t really recognize whether or not it was even music. Sonic Youth has that effect on me.
I’ve only gone through some of the highlights of Sister, but it’s a great listen and will probably surprise and maybe even scare you. Sister is considered by many to be Sonic Youth’s best, Daydream Nation or no. I prefer just to let each album stand on its own – they are both just different manifestations of the same creative genius that is Sonic Youth.
Regardless, picking this album up would be a great investment in great music, great music meaning chaotic and noisy while still having the hooks that makes it catchy in some strange messed up way.