Saturday, 5 November 2011

Sonic Youth Split

Well, there goes seeing one of my favourite bands live. Leading band members Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore married in 1984, and 16 studio albums, countless tours and extensive critical acclaim later, they've broken up, and this probably leaves Sonic Youth unlikely to stay together. Sure, other bands have done it - Quasi, reputedly The White Stripes - but Sonic Youth have recently released an official compilation album, which indicates they might be packing up.

I love Sonic Youth, though their cacophonous early era is a bit too avant garde for mainstream consumption, with huge long tracts of 'arty' white noise. Their hardcore fans proudly proclaim their love for the sub-lo-fi Bad Moon Rising, but I think what Sonic Youth do (or did) best is the subtle melodic interplay on their later albums, Sonic Nurse, Murray Street, and even the 'poppy' Rather Ripped. However, there's just as much merit in the punkier, more grit-driven Dirty and the 1988 album widely recognised as their magnum opus, Daydream Nation.

Moore and Gordon were my second and third favourite members of the band respectively, though the defining members in many ways. My love was always reserved for the songs that Lee Ranaldo wrote. Honey-voiced poet Ranaldo is (was) always given a track or two on each album, and his songs are usually the most memorable and atmospheric. Some of them are haunting, discordant but still mellow, emotionally charged but subtle - it was all in his lyrics, his tone of voice and the harmonies at play behind his vocals. In 'Hoarfrost', below, you can hear winter creeping in through guitars; in 'Karen Koltrane', a tattered love story is gradually revealed, as much through the music as the words. The most harrowing track of those below is 'In the Kingdom #19', which follows the death of a man on a highway, caught in his confusion and yet rich with detailed imagery. Sometimes I hear the words from that track in my mind - "hard shoulder of the motorway"..."My eyes are blinded... I am in the darkness... that's it."

If it is goodbye, then it's farewell to an influential, life-changing band, who may have been overrated for individual albums, but who cannot be overrated for their varied and prolific back catalogue: there is something for almost everyone in there. If it is goodbye after this last Brazilian tour, then I hope they're not forgotten.