Sonic Youth recommendations?
March 23, 2005 2:21 PM   Subscribe

So, I've always kind of meant to get into Sonic Youth, but never really have. I saw them a few years ago on Sessions at West 54th on PBS, and really quite enjoyed it, especially when the drummer went all spastic. So, my question is, what is a good place to start to really get into Sonic Youth? What's their best album? Best song?
posted by geekhorde to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Daydream Nation is generally thought to be their masterpiece. I'd start there.
posted by gwint at 2:25 PM on March 23, 2005

Seconded. "Hey Joni" for the song.
posted by If I Had An Anus at 2:30 PM on March 23, 2005

Daydream Nation is the masterpiece. It's all good. But I particularly like Teenage Riot - it sits just on that fine line between indie-pop goodness and screaming noise hell.

Another reccomendation if you want to get into their more noisy stuff; Diamond Sea from Washing Machine. 25 minutes, drifting between beautiful breezy melody and chaotic noise.

Finally, I'd reccomend getting your hands on their live album Hold That Tiger. Excellent live recording from their peak. Schizophrenia is a great track from that one.
posted by Jimbob at 2:37 PM on March 23, 2005

Agreed that you should probably start with Daydream Nation; it's a little harder to say where to go from there. I'd recommend checking out EVOL and Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star to get a feel for, respectively, their earlier and later sounds. But this is by no means a definitive recommendation, and good arguments could be made for other albums: particularly Sister among the early albums and Dirty or Murray Street or even Sonic Nurse among the later albums.

It's easier to tell you what to avoid. N.B.: I'm not saying these are bad albums, just not necessarily the best starting points. Anyway, I'd avoid the really early stuff, i.e. Sonic Youth, Kill Yr Idols, Confusion is Sex, and even Bad Moon Rising. I'd also stay away from Goo and Washing Machine, though that's more of a matter of personal preference. And The Whitey Album is only for die-hard fans....
posted by mr_roboto at 2:47 PM on March 23, 2005

Sure, Daydream Nation is nice, but IM(not so)HO there is no question that their best album is Evol. And the best song on Evol is Tom Violence, and its about as close to iconic Sonic Youth as you can get. Starts off like a (sort of) regular song with chimey chorused guitars and warbly vocals, then goes into an extended noise segment, then roars back into the song structure.
posted by googly at 2:47 PM on March 23, 2005

Their more "accessible" stuff is from Goo and Dirty, which were their first major label albums. They tend to be a little more traditionally rock sounding than most of their other work, although they tend towards heavier aggressive stuff. Their more experimental stuff can, sometimes surprisingly, be a lot more mellow.

Good places to start might be Screaming Fields of Sonic Love, which is basically a best-of for their pre-Geffen years, and the dvd they put last year called Corporate Ghost, which has all their videos since they've been on Geffen. Those two items are basically your greatest hits package.

As far as best album, I'd start with Daydream Nation, which seems to be the consensus pick here. My favorite track on that one alternates between Total Trash and Rain King. For what it's worth, I played Rain King once for my little brother, and my dad walked in because he thought something was wrong.
posted by LionIndex at 2:49 PM on March 23, 2005

Sister or Daydream Nation for best album; Teenage Riot for best song.
posted by donth at 2:51 PM on March 23, 2005

To an extent, it depends on which Sonic Youth you want to get into. if you want to go for the strictly linear approach – i.e. doing it chronologically – I'd say start with Bad Moon Rising, and work from there. There's a lot to be said for following a band/artist's progress in the same way that they did, and if it maybe ends up involving some delayed gratification, then, well, SY are so good that there's not much loss. The problem I tend to have with acquiring the best stuff first is that once you've heard that, anything else you buy feels either like a preparation for it (in the case of earlier material) or a retread (for the stuff that comes after).

If the chronological approach doesn't appeal, then I'd say get Bad Moon Rising, EVOL, Sister, Daydream Nation, Dirty, A Thousand Leaves, Murray Street, Sonic Nurse and Goodbye 20th Century, and listen to them all on random play; between them, you'll get a pretty good evocation of the various facets of Sonic Youth. And you will develop a deep love for Total Trash, Tom Violence, Death Valley '69 and Schizophrenia. Also, if you liked the live show, search out all the bootlegs you can, because SY live are a phenomenal proposition; one of my favourite things is a tape of their performance at the Reading festival back in 1992 (if you want a copy, email me).

On preview:
mr_roboto: the Whitey Album is great! What's not to like about SY covering Robert Palmer?
posted by Len at 2:52 PM on March 23, 2005

I think "Shadow of a Doubt" might be the quintessential SY song, though.

I'd also stay away from Goo and Washing Machine, though that's more of a matter of personal preference.

I'll say. I love both of those albums.
posted by LionIndex at 2:53 PM on March 23, 2005

Daydream Nation of course. Sister too. You may also want to check out the old My Bloody Valentine album, Loveless. It goes well with Daydream Nation.
posted by ontic at 2:57 PM on March 23, 2005

For what it's worth, I played Rain King once for my little brother, and my dad walked in because he thought something was wrong.

Oh, that could be taken the wrong way. He thought there was something wrong with the stereo.
posted by LionIndex at 3:02 PM on March 23, 2005

Concurring with the others, I'll say that Evol / Sister / Daydream Nation was definitely their best period. Buy those three and you'll have the essential Sonic Youth.
posted by sad_otter at 3:11 PM on March 23, 2005

I've always liked Evol. It's a bit less polished than their later albums, but the songs are great.
posted by D.C. at 4:00 PM on March 23, 2005

Is there any place to get their first album, the one with "She is Not Alone" on it? I think it's an EP. Kind of different than the main Sonic Youth, but I love it.
posted by Nelson at 4:43 PM on March 23, 2005

Sister would be my vote for best album. It is such a beautiful bit of work and is what made me love SY from the time I first heard it at age 15. There's this wonderous delicacy to the whole thing which is lacking from later albums. Daydream Nation, Evol, and, in my opinion, Goo are all great too.

"Hey Joanie" is definitely the best song. I've always thought Lee Renaldo should have had more of his songs on the albums.
posted by pandaharma at 4:51 PM on March 23, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all the recommendations. I'll check them out.
posted by geekhorde at 5:10 PM on March 23, 2005

Bad Moon Rising is my favorite SY album (though I'll take the Kim Gordon/Ikue Mori/DJ Olive album or much of Lee's more downtown collaborations any day). To each their own.

I agree that the combination of Screaming Fields of Sonic Love and Corporate Ghost is a very good introduction. For bonus points, seek out a copy of the The Year Punk Broke video and the Confusion is Next book.

On preview: ooh, I hope I'm not too late.
posted by box at 5:16 PM on March 23, 2005

I always liked "Eric's Trip" from DDN - EVOL and Sister are also great - as everyone already said...
posted by lilboo at 5:18 PM on March 23, 2005

Daydream Nation.

The Sprawl + 'Cross the Breeze are my favorite songs, I also like I Love You Golden Blue from Sonic Nurse.

A lot of people like Mote from Goo.
posted by four panels at 8:01 PM on March 23, 2005

I have to agree Shadow of a Doubt is a quintessential song. I also really love Chapel Hill from Dirty, that and Genetic (from the 100% single?) were my introduction to the Youth.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 6:03 AM on March 24, 2005

Nelson: I have an ep with that track on it, it's just called Sonic Youth with a blueish cover that has a photo of them in their...ahem...youth. It's got that song and other stand-outs like: The Burning Spear and I Dreamed I Dream. This might be it, here -- but then again, maybe not.

I guess like most people I'm a Daydream Nation, EVOL, Sister type fan, but to be honest most everything they've done that I've heard I've enjoyed. I also consider Goo, Dirty, Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star and even Confusion is Sex / Kill Yr. Idols to be fun and notable albums too. Len, upthread is right, there really are so many facets to Sonic Youth. Their career has been very impressive.
posted by safetyfork at 6:37 AM on March 24, 2005

listen to dirty and goo.

posted by adampsyche at 7:45 AM on March 24, 2005

I'll generally agree with the recommendations, but just thought I'd add: It's sort of worth remembering that live vs. studio may make a difference. The youth are just about my favorite band to see live (that may partly be nostalgia oriented as there are a lot of good live bands), but I only listen to them intermittently at home. Live you just never know where they'll go and it's always intense. That feeling can't quite be captured in recordings...

That said, daydream nation is definitely a classic.
posted by mdn at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2005

My favorites are Daydream Nation, Goo and Dirty. I tried to like EJS,TANS but just wasn't feeling it. Mote is a fucking awesome song.
posted by Scoo at 11:46 AM on March 24, 2005

Daydream Nation is deffinately a good starting point, but don't forget some of their more recent releases. Personally, I am a big fan of A Thousand Leaves and Sonic Nurse. A Thousand Leaves has to be one of the most beautiful albums I have heard in a long long time.
posted by Benway at 11:50 AM on March 24, 2005

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