Sonic Youth – Sister (Blast First) 1987


I’ve been listening to Sonic Youth’s Sister for the past couple of weeks. For some reason it’s considered to be much cooler to saythat Daydream Nation was the best thing Sonic Youth ever did. Well I’m here to tell you that they are wrong and they can all go fuck themselves because nothing, fucking nothing, is as good as Sister.

Sister is still number one on my all time list of favourite records. There is a warmth to the sound and even an intimacy in the way it is recorded that make Sister sound like Lo-Fi and Hi-Fi at once. It’s a noisy, record of weird tunings, distortion, fuzz and punk attitude. There are Kim’s moments of haunting, yet strangely menacing beauty, recorded through a filter of heroin and regret. The fuck-off avant-garde punk rock of Tuff Gnarl and Catholic Block have never been bettered. The songs are extraodinary and as an album it works in ways that Daydrean Nation couldn’t. There is no wank factor on Sister. Their is no indication of the pompous indulgence and the embarrassing efforts to stay relevant that blighted their later work. To my ears it is the perfect record.

That’s not to say that I’m a total Sonic Youth whore. I find it easier to break their back catalogue up into three’s. For instance the first three albums can be grouped into their no wave period (Sonic Youth, Confusion is Sex, Bad Moon Rising), next we get the mesmerising sonic bliss of their best three (Evol, Sister and Daydream Nation), after that the grab for the big time (Goo, Dirty and Experimental Jet Set and No Star), the three albums that proceeded to off load all of the alt-rock good will (Washing Machine, A Thousand Leaves and NYC Songs and Stories) and the final three, the mildly bored musings of the grand parents of the rock underground (Murray Street, Sonic Nurse and Rather Ripped). Out of all of those albums the only two that I cannot stand are Experimental … and Washing Machine. Those two records are fucking awful. Both of them. In particular it is that semi acoustic shit that Thurston does that I just don’ get. Both of those records are peppered with, dare I say it, lameness, even pathetic earnestness. There’s a uni student who works with me who has pretty good taste, and he started to recommend Thurston Moore’s new record and I had to explain that I just couldn’t. The fucker had burnt me before and I just can’t be interested in anything he does that had descriptions like “acoustic” attached to it. Likewise the “mature” sound of the final three records just didn’t light up my life. Those records are fine in their own way but that’s no longer enough for me.

I suppose the reason for this post is that Sonic Youth are coming to Australia (although not Brisbane) to play the entirety of Daydream Nation. I’m thinking of buying a ticket for Melbourne but somehow I wish that they were playing Sister instead.

4 Responses to “Sonic Youth – Sister (Blast First) 1987”

  1. Ah Sonic Youth’s Sister. Shockingly I find myself in agreement with almost everything posted here. It is their best, no doubt in my mind, even discounting my bias to anyone doing a Crime cover. The tunes kick out, make their point then end, no waffle. The sound is just right – not too clean, not too scuzzy. You are fairly correct with the bundles of 3 arguement. They lost me after Dirty but I came back with Sonic Nurse.
    Nothing personal but I thought after the Saints post that you were resistant to the nostalgia thing that is sweeping the world. Yes I am old enough to have seen them twice on the Daydream Nation tour back then. Lucky me and I have to say it was good, better than the record. But did I see the VU when I was travelling around Europe in 93, nah, did I go to Sydney with my mates to see Lou do Berlin, nah, did I go with my mates to see the Saints play the I’m Stranded lp in Brisbane, nah. But did I download the footage of them filmed live in Sydney in 76, hell yeah and I watch it once a week as it is godhead. Would I d/l footage of SY live at Bryon Bay doing the Daydream Nation stuff – in an instant. Even if I had not been there, would I be going to see a recreation of something from over 10 years ago, NO. It’s not healthy and people need to stop it before they go blind. Hey, it’s your money so do what you want but save some for a strong pair of glasses!

  2. I am a Sonic Youth whore. I admit it. And I agree to some extent with your rules of three. My favorite period is the Evol, Sister, Daydream Nation set of three. However, I do like Jet Set. It just has a great variety of song styles compared with the other two in that set of three. I really like A Thousand Leaves and I do like most of what is on Washing Machine, especially the title track and Diamond Sea. At this point they were working in their own studio and started doing the SYR series of mostly instrumental works. I think A Thousand Leaves is the best example of influence from those experimental sessions showing up on their major label releases. The worst album for me is NYC Ghosts & Flowers. They try to smack poetry on top of what seams to come out of these improvisational jams and intoduce a fifth member (Jim O’Rourke) into the band at the same time. It just doesn’t work for me.

    The last set of three’s I’m still trying to decide how to compare them to the earlier works. I do like Rather Ripped better than the other two because it has a stripped down sound. Not as raw as Sister, but not as super dense as Murray Street or Sonic Nurse. Sometimes these two albums sound kinda muddy, but what I don’t like about them is how pop the song structure is at times. Once again, there is a fine line between conventional and experimental that I think is well balanced on A Thousand Leaves.

    I like most of the SYR series, and how it has molded their sound recently, but I still come back to that raw studio sound they had back long ago. I think in the liner notes for Sister it mentions that the album is recorded with all tube amps. I’m not going to take sides on the whole analog vs. digital argument, but I picked up a SST label CD of this album and it sounded horrible. Luckily I still have my vinyl copy. There is just a great hollow spookiness to that album and Evol too. I guess you could call it American Gothic, and its also found in Bad Moon Rising (of course) and some of Confusion is Sex. I live in the middle of the US, and at the time these albums came out I felt like they were recorded in an abandoned cabin in the woods rather than in NYC.

    I’m showing my age to say that my first SY album was Evol, and I bought it the week it came out. I saw Sonic Youth on the Sister tour a year later in a small bar. It was an awsome show, I loved that album too and haven’t stopped collecting them. Even though I have been disappointed time to time. I saw them on the Sonic Nurse tour and was not impressed. I hope the Daydream Nation tour was a good show. The material is top notch. I know I like those albums because of the nostalgia for my first experiences with their music, but they really are great albums.

  3. NYC Songs and Stories? Please, listen to the record and them you can say waht you think about it. But, i agreed with you when you say they had lost the fire in the latest albums (i enjoyed everything until Sonic Nurse, after it…)

  4. mihai cucos Says:

    I agree very closely with almost everything you said. And you said it well.
    However, Experimental has one good song on it – Sweet Shine. It’s kind of a bitty album, sounds like they were trying out different stuff. I understand your disappointment with it.

    But at any rate it could not fail to improve upon Dirty, which I loathed (and still do) and which put me off SY for years. Before that, I was obsessed with them, they could do no wrong. EVOL and Sister resonated with me like no other records. Daydream was epic, Goo was tighter but still rocked and meandered. And then came Dirty, led by the single 100%. It was the first SY song that I actually didn’t like. What a shock! And then the rest of the album full of all that glossy Sonic Youth by numbers shit. How could they have done that? I hear sounds of regret from them now about it, particularly Kim.

    Well, at the same time so many other bands were going the same way. Nevermind was good but so glossy and nowhere near as great as Bleach, Bandwagonesque was just too pastiche-ridden and nowhere near the beauty of A Catholic Education. Pavement also got dumber and duller after Wowee Zowee.

    It was at that point when i realised that bands always get worse. There are a few exceptions – or maybe just Neil Young (at least he can return to majesty after a dud).

    Anyway, there’s no point being depressed about it. now i just like enjoying my favourite bands at their best! And ignore the rest if you don’t like it! They can’t keep making masterpieces otherwise they wouldn’t be called masterpieces.

    peace out to all the Sonic heads who travel the mystical grooves and are shaken to their core

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