Thursday, April 25, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On #80 - Sonic Youth - A Thousand Leaves

It's sad but true.  After 30 years, Sonic Youth appears to be done, Thurston Moore & Kim Gordon's domestic split having doomed the band as well.  If this is indeed the end, they have left behind one of the most remarkable and consistently excellent catalogs in rock music.  Has anyone else been so good for so long?  Of course, this is not the rock that blasts from radios and fills stadiums.  It's experimental, often noisy, occasionally spacey, yet mostly rocks the way the best rock does.  The albums Sister and Daydream Nation are acknowledged classics while Goo and Dirty were semi-popular in the alterna-grunge explosion of the early 90s.  But as the decade wore on and trends faded, Sonic Youth continued to explore, taking their music further out and expanding their sound.  1998's A Thousand Leaves is full of long songs and moody moments as the band stretches out and explores.

Long songs are nothing new for Sonic Youth.  A decade before, they made Daydream Nation a double LP in order to hold several songs that stretched to 7 or 8 minutes.  On A Thousand Leaves, they use the CD format to expand even further.  The album starts off with perhaps its most experimental track, "Contre le Sexisme," which finds Kim Gordon doing what appears to be stream-of-conscious spoken word over moody atmospherics.  This is followed by its most straight-forward rocker, the catchy "Sunday."  Things really start to grow with the epic "Wild Flower Soul."  Starting with a blast of noise, the song then retreats back to quieter yet catchy verses that slowly build to a dramatic climax.  This is big, epic rock as filtered through SY's unique sensibility.

The album's other long songs go in different directions as well.  "Hits of Sunshine" is dedicated to the then-recently departed Allen Ginsberg and is appropriately rambling, jammy and poetic, the perfect tribute to the poet who bridged the gap between the beats, hippies and punks.  Lee Ranaldo's "Karen Koltrane" is another long rambler, but with the atmospheric noise that has often characterized Ranaldo's contributions to the band.  The album concludes with a pair of quiet yet catchy numbers.  Moore's "Snare, Girl" has a light, bouncy feel.  Gordon closes things out with the soaring "Heather Angel."  A Thousand Leaves may not have the reputation of Sonic Youth's better known works, but it is every bit as good and a reminder of just how amazing this band could be.  Though they may be done, Ranaldo's recent solo album and Moore's Chelsea Light Moving project prove the members are still making engaging, challenging music.  And their catalog is full of excellent albums to explore and experience.

- Adam Reshotko

1 comment:

Space Otter said...

A Thousand Leaves is my favorite SY album. So good, so underappreciated.