Sonic Youth - Sonic Nurse
The pre-release talk of Sonic Nurse being a return to the quality of Daydream Nation was always going to wrong foot the casual fan, for amongst the many descriptions that can be applied to Sonic Youth, first among them is that this band have rarely looked back with such fervour as to repeat a trick that's already well known.
Much of this is due to Sonic Youth being, if not accidental in their recordings, then sounding deliberately haphazard, as though the sound of each album seeps out of rehearsals, the mood in both the band and their home city of New York and the prevailing wind blown by gutter rock, the celebrity press and the tunings left behind on Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore's guitars from last practice.
The difficulty in bringing their latest album back to Daydream Nation is that the album that's now acknowledged as being Sonic Youth's best was so unlike anything that came either before or after it that it has become increasingly unlikely for the band to do much with its legacy. Where Goo and Dirty brought the twisted pop and dense, squalling rock of Sister and Evol to a major label - "Sonic Youth's ongoing corporate swim", according to the band on the back cover of their recent Corporate Ghost DVD release - and the dark, lo-fi bad mood of Bad Moon Rising was recalled on Washing Machine and A Thousand Leaves, Daydream Nation was neither the last chapter in the band's independent years nor the prologue to the Geffen series of albums but a single event that was destined not to be repeated.
Therefore, the question should not be what is Sonic Nurse lacking that its predecessors offered but how have Sonic Youth continued the change in their sound to get to this, their latest album. From a band who, after over twenty years together, added a fifth member for Murray Street, the sound is surprisingly sparse, as the barrage of noise that was commonplace on earlier albums only makes irregular appearances in favour of dark, sleepy melodies and downbeat rhythms. Sometime around Dirty, Sonic Youth appeared to indicate that the rush of guitars, feedback and amp bleed was best allowed to fade back into the songs rather than be given as much prominence as it had been on the Blast First releases and Washing Machine, A Thousand Leaves and Murray Street were the result. Despite the occasional chaos, Sonic Youth's playing is not to be underestimated and the band are still capable of recording unsettling moments, albeit now with a greater space between the music than before.
Pattern Recognition, the opening track on the album, is an example of the sound on Sonic Nurse - it opens with a twisting guitar riff and whilst there are bursts of noise about the chorus, there's little of the relentless grind from their late-eighties/early-nineties recordings. Instead, everything ebbs and flows as though it were dreamt of rather than recorded. Sonic Youth play on this and surely realised it through the music on reading back their lyrics as clean, gentle electric rock gives way to noise but does so with a soft introduction. Like the songs on Murray Street, Sonic Nurse is occasionally understated but there's always an uncomfortable feeling in the guitar, bass and drums and although Thurston Moore continues to sing as though the words were caught whilst he was sleeping, his deliberate catching of words gives Sonic Nurse an uneasy feeling.
Sonic Nurse is possibly the bleakest Sonic Youth album in years and rarely have the band reveled in the sound of darkness as readily as they have here. But where else is there for Sonic Youth to go? From a band who recorded a trash-pop album under the name Ciccone Youth, complete with idiot raps and covers of Madonna and Robert Palmer songs, there's little they could do that's unexpected and Sonic Nurse is no different. Placing it next to Murray Street, Sonic Nurse feels just right, as though it's one step on in a long career, neither an evolution, as such, nor a revolution but simply the right step to take.