A single album never seemed to offer a broad enough canvas for an inclusive view of the Sonic Youth experience. Last year’s splendid album Sister, on SST, came close, with its tight song structures and controlled bursts of sonic mayhem. But the definitive Sonic Youth vinyl was still the live double-album bootleg issued several years ago in England — until the arrival of Daydream Nation, the band’s first official double album and its first record of any kind with major-label distribution behind it.
Daydream Nation gives this influential quartet its best forum yet for demonstrating the broad harmonic palette, sharply honed songwriting skills and sheer exhilarating drive that have resulted from seven years of what guitarist and vocalist Thurston Moore calls “Sonic Life.” The twelve songs range from the driving slamtempo pop power of “Teen Age Riot” and the gorgeous “Candle,” to the deliriously grungy noisefest of “Eric’s Trip,” to the ambitious, panoramic instrumental sound painting of “The Sprawl.” And lest we forget that Sonic Youth were retrofitting Seventies rock tropes before the rest of the rock underground began to shake its Sixties fixations, there’s “Total Trash,” a surging ode to disposable pop metal that wouldn’t have sounded terribly out of place on Alice Cooper’s School’s Out.
Urgent, winningly over-the-top vocals from guitarist Ranaldo and bassist Kim Gordon serve as bracing foils for Moore’s more poppish singing. And Gordon and drummer Steve Shelley have become one of rock’s most feral, kinetic rhythm sections. Moore may be complaining that “there’s bum trash in my hall, and my place is ripped/I totaled another amp, I’m comin’ in sick,” but you can almost see him smiling as he says it, and why not? Daydream Nation presents the definitive American guitar band of the Eighties at the height of its powers and prescience.