Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation

Have I succumbed to writer’s block so badly that I must choose something so easy to talk about? In an act of desperation and amidst a struggle to grasp for words about any album that I’ve listened to, 2010 or otherwise, I must choose this album. Choosing Daydream Nation as the subject for a Nostalgia Trip is my way of getting back into my usual writing habits; it’s kind of like starting a game’s sequel on Easy mode to get back into the controls and mechanics.

This is that album for me. This is the big one, the one which got me into music, the ultimate nostalgia trip. I don’t remember how I heard about this album, this was before I made the rounds on music forums and review sites, but I remember the first time I heard it, it was immediate in it’s effect. As a person who tended to listen to only Cake and They Might Be Giants back when I was a bit younger, this album blew my mind. Listening to it now (and you bet your ass that as I write this, my fingers are sore my tapping them against my desk to these Godly tunes) I hear all of these things that I would have never caught when I was younger; I hear the clean timbre, I hear the bass more prominently, I hear all of these odd things that make me appreciate just how good Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo are, and you can bet your ass I can hear Steve Shelly, possibly the best drummer in all of Alternative Rock.

Taking the Noise Rock static of their debut albums, infusing it with the Hardcore Punk energy that surrounded them, dropping in the Intricate Guitar Work of Glenn Branca, and peppering in Alternative Rock sensibilities, you get Sister. If you drop on top of all that the perfect meeting of songwriting between Kim, Lee, and Thurston and the madness of Reagan-era America, you get Daydream Nation. Where it is no where near as menacing as their earlier stuff, nor is it as welcoming as their newer, Daydream Nation is an album that is equal parts Art Rock and Hardcore Punk; songs like “‘Cross the Breeze” and “Rain King” gnash their teeth beautifully, while songs like “Candle” or “The Sprawl” bloom easily. The entire album is equal parts J Mascis and Glenn Branca, and yet the entire affair sounds so incredibly idiosyncratic; no other band could have made this album.

Although it is a guitar album through-and-through, Thurston never cut his lyrical chops better than on Daydream. The entire affair is a whirlwind of Reagen-era Americana, where New York is the center of the Universe and J Mascis is President. “Silver Rocket” is a surprisingly efficient political call-to-arms, with rockets burning holes in Politician pockets. “Total Trash” is a stab at the entire “Cocaine Cowboys” scene and the “Me Generation” of the 80s and “Kissability” is a sleazy stab at LA and the Hollywood culture, and with Kim on vocals, the song bleeds sexual tension.

Lee Renaldo also shows off his talent more than on any other Sonic Youth album, with vivid, psychedelic imagery. His three songs (“Eric’s Trip”, “Hey Joni”, and “Rain King”) are highlights in an album full of nothing but perfect songs, and even though they separate themselves so easily from the Kim and Thurston songs, they fit in with no problem. The way hespits lines like “She’s a beautiful little jukebox/a sailboat explosion/snap of electric whipcrack” or “his mind’s a countdown/his daydreams spark” give off a real feeling and image in the same way one of his spoken-word pieces would. Each of his songs also contain some of the most diabolical guitar lines, with “Rain King” standing out as especially menacing. “Hey Joni” starts off where most songs would have already spent 2 minutes building and just continues building until it’s somewhere in the cosmos.

I’ve been dancing around it the entire length of this article, but here it is: “Teen Age Riot” is hands-down the best song Sonic Youth have ever penned. In fact, I’d go on to say it’s one of the best songs of the 80s, if not the best. Not many songs can stand up to hundreds of listens and still bring the unbridled joy that it brings me, with it’s snare drum kicks, clean dual guitar textures, and vivid world creation. It cannot be overstated how great the song is; it’s as if Thurston Moore, Lee Renaldo, Kim Gordon, and Steve Shelly were put on this Earth to pen this song. At the climax, when the guitars and drums build, the drums stop suddenly and the guitar continues, just to have the drums return so it can scream along with Lee and Thurston, it is simply incredible to listen to. No matter where I am, I will beat my hands along to Steve’s snare smacks furiously; the energy this song emits is incredible.

So what more can be said of Daydream Nation? It’s a masterpiece, a time-capsule of Reagan America, the best album of the 80s, “Teen Age Riot” is awesome, Lee and Thurston are legends, and Steve Shelly deserves more credit. Hell, even Kim, the most crowd-splitting member of almost any band, is totally on for this release. Daydream Nation is lightning-in-a-bottle, a meeting of minds that will never come about again, the best album by the quintessential American alternative rock band. Just talking about it seems superfluous and redundant, but sometimes you just have to let your inner fandom collapse all over the pavement. Let the world know, this is my favorite album of all-time, and I love it with no reservations whatsoever. You should too.

by Trevor “Full of kissability” Johnson

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