Label: Geffen Records - DGCD-24515 • Format: CD Album, Reissue • Country: Canada • Genre: Rock • Style: Alternative Rock
A nation that forgets its daydreams is doomed to have Sonic Youth replay them for it. Perhaps it had to take some time, since even the least commercial bands of the Seventies, inspired by a temporary refinement of public taste, had the idea of financial success in mind; Sonic Youth, for the entire duration of their most creative period, did not set that as even a remote goal - ironically, it was not until the phenomenal critical triumph of Daydream Nation that they began seriously considering the idea of a major label deal, and most of their output since then has been judged inferior to the "glory days" period of EVOLSisterand Daydream Nation.
But most of all, like The Velvets, what they loved was the stretched-out, free-flowing, drone-based sound of the electric guitar - not as an accessory for a catchy chorus, not as a prerequisite for a kick-ass hard rock riff, but just for its own sake. One reason, I think, why the critics had so much admiration for the rough'n'gruff pair of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, was that, in spite of all their alleged experimentation and innovation, in the overall context of the Eighties they actually represented a very old school of musical thought.
Instead of playing hardcore punk, thrash metal, synth pop, or any other trademark styles associated with the decade, their preference was to produce burbling, blubbing, buzzing, and sometimes even jangling Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation that really owed much more to Lou Reed, Syd Barrett, and Neil Young than to any of the newer, post guitar styles.
I remember being almost taken aback at my first acquaintance with those records - expecting to find something completely "unlistenable" from America's prime time avantgarde band, I found a clearly retro-oriented sound instead, and not even Moore's unconventional guitar tunings also a trick he probably picked up from Lou Reed rather than anybody younger could convince me otherwise.
No wonder that they got much praise from old rockers like Neil, and also served as model inspiration to so many people from the grunge scene, who probably thought of them as fearless innovators, but subconsciously loved them because of this strong link to rock music's Golden Age. And in this context, it is particularly fitting that it is Daydream Nationthe album that arguably finalizes Sonic Youth's journey from "intentionally ugly-avantgarde" to "naturally ugly-accessible", that is so often regarded as the band's peak - like their Sixties idols, whom they unsuccessfully tried to kill, they began by tap-dancing on the backbone of their talent, only to have the invisible hand of fate gradually remove them from that position and force them to nurse and nurture that talent.
And the more accessible they became, the more the critics loved them. The classic lineup of Sonic Youth was fully established by the time this album was recorded, and consisted of: Thurston Moore - Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation , vocals also some keyboards ; Kim Gordon - bass, vocals also some guitar ; Lee Ranaldo - guitar, vocals; Steve Shelley - drums.
The album marked their parting ways with the indie label SST and was their only Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation for Enigma Records amusingly, both labels were later accused by band members of mishandling their financial and promotional affairs - yes, underground or overground, but these guys knew how to count their pennies alright ; also, curiously, the album was recorded at the Greene St.
Recording studio Sylk 130 - The Reason New York, which used to specialize in hip-hop rather than rock music, and co-produced by Nick Sansano, one of the hottest hip-hop producers at the time, even if there's hardly any trace of hip-hop on Daydream Nation.
Despite the double LP format, the key difference between Daydream Nation and its predecessors is largely the song length: whereas earlier albums usually respected the minute length barrier, for Daydream Nation they felt confident enough to stretch out for as long as the groove power could carry them, which ties in fairly well with the grand old tradition of The Velvets and Neil Young, and Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation explains the critical praise, since listeners were smitten with the expansive scope of the record.
Commercially, this did not help them one bit: the album, like all of its To Make A Woman Feel Wanted - Loggins And Messina - On Stage (Reel-To-Reel, Album), did not even begin to chart - although it probably improved their reputation enough to assist the subsequent transition to a major label and, consequently, improved sales.
It is still fairly ironic that the band's highest charting record to date was their very last: The Eternalreleased in - it took the general American public more than a quarter century to finally believe the critics about Sonic Youth being a national treasure and all that. Yet as far as critical reverence is concerned, I suppose that there is not a single "hip" best-of list in the US since that does not have Daydream Nation in its Top 10 overseas, things are probably a little different: I'm fairly sure that a lot of European snobs consider the band highly overrated and nowhere near as brazenly avantgarde and dashingly experimental as they are seen in the US, but that should not bother Houses - Vetiver - Thing Of The Past objective reviewer.
It does have the superficial look of an album, though, that would seem to be more revered in theory than listened and relistened to in practice - so let us meditate a bit on whether it's actually a fun record, or if it's just there to provide an opportunity to meditate. For the defense. I don't know if this will make sense to anybody, but every time I listen to Daydream NationI get the overall impression of a "highway album", a lengthy, monotonous, but somehow gripping ride through a long, long, long stretch of the road with little other than an incessant line of same-looking telegraph poles zipping by.
Obviously, this has to do with most of the songs playing similar guitar patterns at a similar tempo - and, by the way, it does help a lot that the tempo is relatively fast about as fast as you can make it without all the notes blurring into a chainsaw buzz. BySonic Youth had one of the best grooves in the country: a sound grounded tight enough in old school hard rock values to make it as ass-kicking as ol' time Stones or Stooges, but with enough variety in the combinations produced by the two guitars to prevent the music from becoming boring.
I still find it hard to distinguish between individual songs, to tell the truth. The thing is, every single song on the record creates the exact same mood, La Bostella - Werner Müller Und Sein Orchester - Party Rakete 66 (Werner Müller Spielt Zum Tanz) all of its different riffs say more or less the same thing in so many different ways.
What that mood is is very Buzz & Fly - Charlotte Hug - Slipway To Galaxies for me to define, though. Not anger, not depression, not paranoia, not melancholia, not even psychedelia - more like a dizzy, smoky, sickly sonic fog combined with a hustle-bustle; an overall sense of dense, thick nastiness, perhaps, through which Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation have to cut your way, although why you have to do this and whether you will be able to get anywhere through it remains a mystery.
But once you're in the zone, the ride across Daydream Nation becomes a smooth, one-of-a-kind trip with its special coolness. There's plenty of rhythm-breaking noise, Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation , but not a single song here is Piece Of Me (International Video Version) - Various - Video Hits First noise: the atonal sections usually sometimes too predictably appear in the middle of the songs, performing the function of the bridge, and then go away - it's as if the tight locomotive of the song eventually overheats, splintering into several hundred shards Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation broken sound, and then, if and where possible, upon cooling down, self-assembles again and Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation us through yet another round.
As you do get used to the vibe and begin to cherish it, the original function of the coda becomes less useful, but still symbolic. It's like the bulk of the album is the equivalent of the uneasy journey of Silver Rocket - Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation Rider and the last three minutes are the equivalent of the movie's gruesome finale. All you have to do is dump the Just Out Of Reach - Willie Nelson - Vintage Vaults: Willie Nelson (Box Set) and start anew.
Lyrics-wise, Daydream Nation is not great, but passable: they provide the general impression of a trip through the world's averaged state of mind inwith occasionally sprinkled references to anti-commercialism, anti-stardom, gender issues, time issues, big city life, and a lot of verbal chaff that will be vivid poetic imagery to some and meaninglessly strung together words to others.
The good news is that nothing is too straightforward or too specifically tied in to its epoch, so that most of the lyrical observations that were relevant for continue to be relevant forand probably way beyond. If you really want to, you can find riot and rebellion in the record; but if you don't want to, you can find plenty of arguments to deny their existence, and this ambiguity does elevate Sonic Youth high above most of their alt-rock competition.
For the prosecution. Well, it is a long album, and a one-trick pony is a one-trick pony, no matter how awesome the trick in question can be. On the other hand, who knows, perhaps it is the length that really contributes to Daydream Nation giving the impression of this lengthy, sickening, painful, but inescapable road trip - take out the alleged "filler" and you're left without the epic feel.
In any case, neither the length, nor the technical flaws in the singers' voices, nor the monotonousness of the arrangements should seriously prevent one from enjoying the record.
The overall formula of Daydream Nation is strictly limited, but it is, on the whole, a unique formula, and it is loyally adhered to and near-perfectly realized all the way through, which is why, I believe, it is downright impossible to "love" parts of this record and "hate" other parts of it - you simply either get it all or you don't get any of it. Or, more precisely, as in my case, you remain unsure if you get it or not, but you remain permanently intrigued by its Lost Highway mood.
I can easily agree that Sonic Youth in general are a bunch of critically overrated darlings - the kind of perfect band for the "indie rock establishment" to revere and enthrone, bypassing the equal or much superior rights of other artists.
But there is no denying that at their best, they could get a unique sound out of a standard "2 guitars, 1 bass, and a drumset" rock kit at a time when the possibilities of basic guitar rock already seemed exhausted - and although we may blame them for the gray, bland landscape of Nineties and later alt-rock because, after all, Sonic Youth influenced Nirvana, and Nirvana influenced millions of dumbasseswe certainly cannot blame them for their intentions.
Daydream Nation does sound like a revitalized reincarnation of The Velvet Underground, enhanced with the experience of the classic punk and post-punk music, and, like almost everything the Velvets did, it is first and foremost the sound of a band whose members really are in love with their guitars and seriously excited about the endless combinations of sonic threads they can get out of them.
Do I honestly love this album? But do I think of it as a fascinating, potentially timeless, work of art that should be readily recommendable outside of any trend or fashion mentality?
Definitely yes. If anything, it can get your mind stuck in a strange transitional territory between daydream and nightmare - which, for all purposes, might be precisely Spark - The Church - Acoustic Sermon territory which we often take for "reality" Sonic Youth. Daydream Nation.
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