Picks and Pans Review: Dirty
Sonic Youth, whose postpunk thrashings helped blaze a trail for alternative bands like the Pixies, are one of America's best-known little-known garage bands. Formed in 1981, the New York City foursome caught major-label attention after landing a critical ovation for their 1988 LP, Daydream Nation. Rumors of a sellout inevitably surfaced, but on Goo, Sonic's 1990 debut on David Geffen's DGC label, the band combed out some tangles without bleaching its punk roots.
Longtime fans can breathe another sigh of relief. Sonic's eighth album (produced by Butch Vig of Nirvana's Nevermind fame) is an unbridled blast of feedback frenzy, vocal nonchalance and political commentary. Like Nirvana's breakthrough, Dirty has expensive recording studio written all over it but remains raw. The flat, blow-off vocals of guitarist Thurston Moore and his wife, bassist Kim Gordon, continue to breeze through a tornado of menacing guitar ecstasy.
But this time the wall of grunge admits light through well-crafted melodic windows. "100%," Moore's eulogy for a friend who died young, boasts an infectious groove over dissonant, dueling guitars, and "Sugar Kane," with its "I love You Sugar Kane" refrain, is unusually sing-along for Sonic Youth.
Softer touches aside, though, the band's tough candor can still be unsettling. On the frenetic "Swimsuit Issue," Gordon vehemently targets sexism on magazine racks and in the boardroom ("Don't touch my breast/ I'm just working at my desk"), while "Nic Fit" is a 59-second nail-spitting barrage of punk babble. Even more rancorous is "Youth Against Fascism," which includes such acrimonious declarations as "I believe Anita Hill/ Judge will rot in hell."
Like Nirvana, Sonic Youth has to feed its roots while it basks in a big-label's backing. Dirty finds them still digging deep. (DGC)