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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Never Heard of 'Em: Sonic Youth

Posted by on Thu, Apr 26, 2012 at 9:11 AM

Anna Minard claims to "know nothing about music." For this column, we force her to listen to random records by artists considered to be important by music nerds.

Sonic Youth
Confusion is Sex
(Neutral)

image001.jpg
Three quick housekeeping issues: (1) Neither Captain Beefheart nor Frank Zappa were on acid during the recording of Trout Mask Replica, according to various commenters, music nerds, and the internet. I find this very, very sad, because I still don't like it, and now I guess they were serious. BUMMER. (2) People hate me on the internet now! So exciting. My mom's gonna be proud. And (3) sorry this column didn't happen last week. I am only a semiprofessional music-not-knower-abouter, and my real job comes first.

On to Sonic Youth! The title of this column isn't technically true here—I have heard the name Sonic Youth before (I had the rock under which I have been living drilled with air holes a few years ago), but I've never listened to them on purpose. I didn't really like track one, and I got pretty worried that I was gonna be miserable again. "She's in a baaaaaad moooooood…" probably because of your weird bee noises in the background, guys. And the track falls apart at the end, devolving into a kind of music I've complained about in this column before. Except… I think I might like it? I don't know what's happening, but there's this buildup at the end, which feels like something I would usually call "bullshit," and I'm just really okay with it. It's… exciting? I even like the huge, strange tone at the end that goes on for like 10 seconds, and I'm sorry when it's done.

I quickly realized that these songs sound like the soundtrack to a fever dream, as I kept having weirdly vivid instant associations with the songs. It's like the score of a lo-fi late-'80s/early-'90s horror movie with a child protagonist. On track two, "Protect Me You," the kid is hiding in a pitch-dark church, waiting for his or her inevitable demise, maybe praying a little. If I close my eyes while listening to the beginning of track three, "Freezer Burn/I Wanna Be Your Dog" (which makes me feel like I'm in an airplane engine), I can't shake the feeling that I'm about to be stabbed from behind. Creepy! Then the second part starts, and its guitar part sounds familiar for some reason, and I've probably listened to it 15 times so far, at least. I just keep hitting rewind. Track four, "Shaking Hell," is a demento carnival, and maybe there's a cheesy/scary part where the kid's on a spinny ride and sees the murderer and then when he spins around to that part again the murderer's just gone.

Anyway, there's not room for a whole track-by-track breakdown, but I really liked this album, and I don't know why. It follows every rule I can think of for me hating shit (gross lyrics—"Shake off your flesh"? Ew, check! Noise for no apparent reason? There's a ton! Repetitive unpleasant sounds under the surface of everything? Hella check!) and yet here I am, still listening to it, and kind of wanting to jump up and down a little bit. Or a lot. Don't worry, I won't.

Confusion Is Sex gets a "what are these strange new feelings?" out of 10.

Listen to "Freezer Burn/I Wanna Be Your Dog" after the cut.

 

Comments (36) RSS

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yos-wa 1
did the guitar riff sound familiar because it's "i wanna be your dog" by the stooges?
Posted by yos-wa on April 26, 2012 at 9:26 AM · Report this
2
Sonic Youth are important to many people, including myself, for doing exactly what you describe here - awakening strange new feelings that can start you down the path to appreciating "weirder" musics. Mazel tov!
Posted by Daily in LA on April 26, 2012 at 10:18 AM · Report this
GlamB0t 3
Happy to see this column back, Anna! :)

Sonic Youth is in my library, but I usually skip to the next song. Apparently my youthful angst has mellowed out.
Posted by GlamB0t on April 26, 2012 at 10:20 AM · Report this
tallchris 4
"I quickly realized that these songs sound like the soundtrack to a fever dream, as I kept having weirdly vivid instant associations with the songs. It's like the score of a lo-fi late-'80s/early-'90s horror movie with a child protagonist."

I think Greil Marcus writes about CiS being creepy songs sung by kids (or something to that extent) in the 90's Geffen reissue.
Posted by tallchris http://policeteeth.bandcamp.com on April 26, 2012 at 11:45 AM · Report this
Keekee 5
It's all Grant's fault!
Posted by Keekee on April 26, 2012 at 11:56 AM · Report this
cosby 6
@1: You are asking a person who has never heard Sonic Youth about the Stooges. You may as well be asking Mitt Romney about SpaceGhostPurrp.
Posted by cosby http://www.myspace.com/cosbyshownights on April 26, 2012 at 12:24 PM · Report this
7
I'm glad you liked the album but whoever is picking these for you is being especially cruel. Just about every single Sonic Youth record is a better introduction than Confusion is Sex.
Posted by cbatson on April 26, 2012 at 12:26 PM · Report this
Mike Force 8
Reading your column kind of makes me not hate the idea of having children. (you're the child). good stuff!
Posted by Mike Force http://www.autotone.net on April 26, 2012 at 12:52 PM · Report this
michijo 9
I once read that Sonic Youth was specifically using certain tunings that were considered in medieval Europe to be evil, possibly that Lee Renaldo actually went to music school, and of course the godfather of this type of guitar noise Glenn Branca would know these tunings. The singer for "Big Black" said that Sonic Youth essentially lost their edge and became a tongue-in-cheek humor rock band. This is their early non-humorous rock. "I dreamed a Dream" and "The Burning Spear" are two other good songs from Sonic Youth not on this album. Strangely I listen mostly to ambient music or weird newwave music now like Zero Zero Glasherz:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxojdnbtt…
Posted by michijo on April 26, 2012 at 1:00 PM · Report this
Dougsf 10
Confusion is Sex isn't exactly the quintessential Sonic Youth record. I'm guessing even a lot of die-hard fans don't even own it—or care to. Couldn't ya at least have flowed her a copy of Sister or Daydream Nation?

I do love this column.
Posted by Dougsf on April 26, 2012 at 1:07 PM · Report this
nipper 11
@5 it was me this time
Posted by nipper on April 26, 2012 at 1:07 PM · Report this
julie russell 12
I call bullshit...EVERYONE has heard a a Sonic Youth song
Posted by julie russell http:// on April 26, 2012 at 3:12 PM · Report this
Grant Brissey, Emeritus 13
Well Julie, maybe you should read before you comment:

The title of this column isn't technically true here—I have heard the name Sonic Youth before (I had the rock under which I have been living drilled with air holes a few years ago), but I've never listened to them on purpose.


SO THERE.
Posted by Grant Brissey, Emeritus http://www.grantropolis.com/ on April 26, 2012 at 3:17 PM · Report this
julie russell 14
Sorry..can't read.
Posted by julie russell http:// on April 26, 2012 at 3:22 PM · Report this
julie russell 15
P.S. This column was cute w/ Beefheart..now it's just stupid
Posted by julie russell http:// on April 26, 2012 at 3:25 PM · Report this
Grant Brissey, Emeritus 16
You have become very negative.
Posted by Grant Brissey, Emeritus http://www.grantropolis.com/ on April 26, 2012 at 3:33 PM · Report this
17
Do another sonic youth album. something to contrast the insanity of confusion. something more melodic like a thousand leaves or washing machine or you pick.
Posted by sonicguest on April 26, 2012 at 3:38 PM · Report this
julie russell 18
No..just toss her something actually considered obscure to a non music lover. 13th Floor Elevators, maybe..or Landspeed Record.
Posted by julie russell http:// on April 26, 2012 at 3:39 PM · Report this
19
make her listen to kylie minoise
Posted by kyatsu on April 26, 2012 at 3:48 PM · Report this
20
Ditto, it's unfortunate that this was her first exposure to SY. This is one of their earlier pieces, much easier on the ears:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQw4w9WgX…
Posted by fan of the youth on April 26, 2012 at 4:11 PM · Report this
yos-wa 21
sonic youth shared this shit on their facebook page. weird. a pulitzer and now sonic youth recognition cred? the stranger's moving up in this world!
Posted by yos-wa on April 26, 2012 at 4:12 PM · Report this
22
I started Sonic Youth with Washing Machine, hearing them play what I consider the best live version of the Diamond Sea live on tv, and I then bought my first SY cd: Bad Moon Rising. I had a rough start with that one, but some songs grew on me (Halloween, Flower, the obvious Death Valley '69). From there I bought Washing Machine (with a bonus 4 track live cd) and worked my way up: EVOL, Sister, Daydream Nation, Goo, Dirty, EJSTNS (and at some point Confusion + Kill Yr Idols and even Made in USA and Screaming Fields of Sonic Love while on a school trip in Greece) at which point I had caught up with them, and bought the albums since. I'm glad I heard Diamond Sea first, maybe hearing She's in a bad mood first wouldn't have sparked as much enthusiasm as it did.
Posted by Epithumia on April 26, 2012 at 4:59 PM · Report this
23
I am a music nerd and I have to say that all of the albums thus far given to Anna are really challenging, even for a music lover. I look back on my history with music and I definitely had a foundation of knowledge before I could appreciate something like Confusion is Sex (and I think of it as a lesser work in the Sonic Youth cannon, so really puzzling to me why this was picked.) I think it's awesome that Anna dug this album, so early in the process.

I would suggest changing it up and giving her some Flying Burrito Brothers or Sketches of Spain. Or if you continue down this path, go for the gold and unleash some Meshuggah.
Posted by sisyphusgal on April 26, 2012 at 6:54 PM · Report this
cosby 24
@21: I have a feeling the whichever unpaid intern that runs Sonic Youth's FB page will re-post anything inflammatory about Sonic Youth leading fans to defend them and thus try to recall why they liked them in the first place. The any news is good news department.

The next "Never Heard Of 'Em" should obviously be Merzbow's '1930'. The series could then be retitled "Never Made It All The Way Through" or "Never Hear Again".
Posted by cosby http://www.myspace.com/cosbyshownights on April 26, 2012 at 7:11 PM · Report this
Jessica 25
@24: Jesus, why subject ANYONE to Merzbow? It's just cruel.
Posted by Jessica on April 26, 2012 at 11:06 PM · Report this
26
Why not bust out some Cosmic Psychos or The Meanies, or get really freaky and bust out Mr Bungles first album or even Disco Volante.
Posted by Frenzal on April 27, 2012 at 12:29 AM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 27
@15: DId you like any of the earlier "Never Heard of 'Ems"? Or did you only like the one?
Posted by Canadian Nurse on April 27, 2012 at 7:01 AM · Report this
julie russell 28
@27 Only saw these 2
Posted by julie russell http:// on April 27, 2012 at 8:37 AM · Report this
29
@25 I love Merzbow. and Boris. the dissonance is...i don't know, provocative?
Posted by liquid on April 27, 2012 at 11:12 AM · Report this
michijo 30
@10 This was always my favorite album from Sonic Youth. I bought it when I was 14 years old or so. Let's hear another song from Sonic Youth that is gut:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU1GqciiQ…
Posted by michijo on April 27, 2012 at 11:13 AM · Report this
Larry Mizell, Jr. 31
just, please, no rap
Posted by Larry Mizell, Jr. on April 28, 2012 at 10:06 AM · Report this
michijo 32
Maybe do never heard of some old Wolfgang Press or The Pop Group.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeq0qeRHv…
Posted by michijo on May 1, 2012 at 9:26 AM · Report this
33
By far, the worst column the Stranger has ever published and that's saying something.
Posted by the_grizzler on May 3, 2012 at 12:31 PM · Report this
Grant Brissey, Emeritus 34
They say if you can reach just one person...
Posted by Grant Brissey, Emeritus http://www.grantropolis.com/ on May 3, 2012 at 3:36 PM · Report this
35
Confusion was my intro to SY. I think it gives you a great idea of what they are fringe to do in later albums. I got this when I was 16 and only played it once in a while because it freaked me out. You should listen to Bad Moon Rising next. Probably their last "scary" album. Then of course their best, Sister. But who knows, you might find those totally boring :)
Posted by MikeMos on May 5, 2012 at 8:52 AM · Report this
michijo 36
@35 Yes, Brave Men Run hits some high notes from Bad Moon Rising. They are really Beatniks. Allen Ginsburg liked them.
Posted by michijo on May 7, 2012 at 4:39 PM · Report this

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