Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 40. Sister.

Top 102 Albums⁺ No 40. 
Sister - Sonic Youth.
Sandy beaches
Bridges sinking into the sea
Beautiful confusion
You're a fading memory"

After  EVOL it seemed that Sonic Youth were set to ride a wave which was carrying some of the more uncompromising outcrops of the no wave and hardcore movements in America into the mainstream. Sister was the follow up and it seemed set to take Sonic Youth one step closer to mainstream success. The album's energy is generated by tension between nostalgia and noise, between beauty and terror.
The whole album seems fractured by visions, religious guilt and simmering violence & horror. All are referenced in the opening song Schizophrenia. Apparently (I've just read in Wikipedia) there is a loose concept based around Philip K Dick and his twin sister, who died at six weeks of age and whose memory haunted the writer. Dick was given to visions and hallucinations in his real life as well as those that appear in his writings. Perhaps, just perhaps, these visions are the real world?
"She keeps coming closer saying I can feel it in my bones
Schizophrenia is taking me home"

Reading the Wikipedia notes I've just come across another reason to love this album. Apparently my copy is the uncensored first pressing which sell for $100 plus on eBay. Two of the images on the collage were blacked out / covered by a barcode in subsequent pressings. Not that I'm selling.

As well as haunting splintered art rock masterpieces this album also has some rough and ready rockers; the cover of Crime's Hotwire My Heart and White Kross which I often played to get my adrenaline pumping before a night out. One night out to see Sonic Youth really sticks in my memory - I saw them a few years after this album in McGonagles, a small venue in Dublin City Centre. The touts were offering over £100 for tickets -  unheard of! The band's reputation was growing like a tsunami at the time. The venue was dangerously overcrowded and water dripped from the ceiling and flowed down the walls. Afterwards we all compared our wrinkled fingers and dropped jaws.

The next time I went to see them I stayed in a bar across the road drinking while the support band played. Foolish move. The support band was Nirvana and it was they who would surf the tsunami from alternity to ubiquity, and not Sonic Youth, although they did make it on to Geffen and only recently broke up after sixteen albums and countless spin offs and collaborations. For me, this remains their zenith. What about you?


  1. Don't know the album but like the energy here.
    Why censored?
    A 3 year old willy and a pair of udders?
    Your dashing on ahead Seamus; are you bring to get to your negative top 10 to synch with our No 1?

    1. I think it was a question of the person in the photo objecting and an image from Disneyworld on the udder side.

      Negative top ten? Absolute zero is -273º so there could be quite a few more... It's easier to do the posts now that I have the albums chosen in advance. Up to this point I'd be wavering between albums for a day before finally choosing.

  2. I have a blind spot when it comes to bands with that special brand of New York Cool like Sonic Youth, the Strokes and Television. They act as if any real show of emotion is a sign of weakness. Imagine my surprise then when I learned that Steve Shelley was going to produce my main man Townes Van Zandt. Alas, it did not comes to pass as Townes was not in a fit state and Shelley had to cancel the sessions. Townes died shortly after. It would have been intriguing though. Unsympathetic overproduction was a feature of many of Townes' studio albums. I don't think that would have been the case here.


    1. That studied blankness, the sense that they are hipsters just dipping their toes into the sea? I don't know - I find some of this album very emotional.
      I remember seeing a documentary in which they were being interviewed in a record shop and Steve Shelley picked out my favourite album (Number 0 on this now open ended list) and raved about it.
      I'll have to listen to more Van Zandt. I have The Late Great TVZ. What else would you recommend?

    2. Seamus, I prefer his live stuff. Of his studio albums, I'd go for Delta Momma Blues and Our Mother the Mountain. I also really like No Deeper Blue,which he recorded in Limerick. I was quite the evangelist for Townes and made a mixtape - well a CD - of him a few years back. I still have a few copies. If interested, email me a postal address to brendanol@dublin.ie and I'll send it on.


  3. I'd go for 'Texas Troubador' Seamus.
    A 4-CD compact box set featuring all Van Zandt’s studio recordings released by the Poppy and Tomato labels during his most creative period; You get Townes first 7 albums (and arguabley his best) plus a live CD for £14...