Sweet Youth

Sonic Youth, the Lovemakers, and Edgetone Music Festival are on our radar


SONIC REDUCER "It was a period where you thought anything could happen," Thurston Moore once told me, talkin' 'bout the early '90s alternative rock scene spawned by Sonic Youth's widely regarded masterpiece, Daydream Nation (DGC, 1988).

One might say the MTV-coined catchphrase "Alternative Nation" went as far as to take its cues from SY's double disc, which was self-aware enough to dub a track "The Sprawl" and heady enough to venture into the big-statement two-LP turf also being hoed by once–SST kindred Minutemen and Hüsker Dü. Honestly, back in those hazy days, I recall giving it a handful of spins, sensing the distinct odor of a masterpiece, and immediately stopping playing it. Daydream was much too much, too rich for my blood, too jammed with the brainy, jokey pop culture ephemera that had riddled Sonic Youth's LPs up to that point — positioned as the polar opposite of a hardcore punk 7-inch, which was short, sharp, and built for maximum speed. Yo, you'd never catch Minor Threat doing a double album. Instead Daydream thumbed its nose at the closeted cops in the mosh pit and unfurled like a dark banner announcing: We can't be contained by your louder, faster, lamer rules. We're gonna speak to a imaginary country — off Jorge Luis Borges's and Italo Calvino's grids — of naval-gazing, candle-clutching misfit visionaries looking for clues in trash cults, Madonna singles, and the burned-out butt end of the Raygun-era '80s.

Now nearly 20 years old, Daydream — recently given the deluxe reissue treatment with an additional disc of live tracks — brings back memories of prophesy and triggers reminders of mortality. Around the time it first came out, I recall ranting to kindred record store clerks — and anyone who stumbled into my predated High Fidelity daydream — how everything will change when Sonic Youth meets Public Enemy. And it sort of did on Daydream, coproduced by Nicholas Sansano, who engineered PE's '88 masterwork It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam).

Apparently we were also talkin' 'bout nation building back then, finding a face and a place for a generation still living at home and struggling for an identity. Imagining a meeting of the most powerful forces in American rock and hip-hop seemed like the next best thing to moving out — and it foreshadowed Goo and touring collaborations to come. Little did I — or Moore — realize that a dozen years after Daydream Nation, the meeting of rock and rap would degrade into what Moore described as "negativecore" and rap-metal units like Limp Bizkit and debacles like Rapestock 2000. Daydream Nation offered a whole other, embracing view of a youth revolution with its opening track and college radio hit "Teen Age Riot." Sonic Youth had dared to write an anthem for a new age of kids, tagged with Kim Gordon's "you're it!" — and everyone was on the same page, stoned on Dinosaur Jr.–style Jurassic distortion and thinking-Neanderthal riffs and racing as fast as they could through dreamlike pop pastiche, as embodied by the accompanying video, a kind of decades-late Amerindie response to "White Riot" or "Anarchy in the UK."

On Daydream pop hooks emerged for the first time alongside the ever-coalescing SY aesthetic, with euphoric, charging chord progressions seemingly unrooted to the blues, and the way the group would open into intentionally pretty passages, flaunting the delicate uses of distortion and a feminized rock sensibility. We were all dreaming of Nirvana, a fringe seeping into the pop marketplace. Honestly though, listening to that Daydream again, I couldn't help but be disappointed.

Also from this author

  • Women with movie cameras

    Cheers to CAAMFest's crop of female Asian American film directors

  • Spiking the box office

    THE YEAR IN FILM: Looking back at a triumphant year for African American films

  • Not from around here

    French synth-pop giants Phoenix and Daft Punk tap into the alien within

  • Also in this section

  • Peace-out

    After seven rockin' years, Sonic Reducer bids adieu with a look back at some choice musical moments

  • Feel the 'Love

    Rosily buzzing U.K. outfit the Big Pink gets it, Carly Simon and all

  • Sly 'n' sincere

    Don't confuse this Brit with Britney. Plus: Midlake and Barn Owl and Daniel Higgs