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Definitive Albums: Sonic Youth 'Daydream Nation' (1988)

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Sonic Youth 'Daydream Nation'

Sonic Youth 'Daydream Nation'

DGC Records

Book of Longing

"Teen Age Riot" is one of the great opening gambits to be found on, well, any album, really. The first cut on Sonic Youth's classic 1988 double album, Daydream Nation, isn't the four-to-the-floor get-ready-to-rock anthem that opens so many albums —even Sonic Youth ones— but seven staggering minutes that set the table for the many moods and ever-shifting artistry of the 70 to follow.

The song is less a 'riot' —that comes later, on Daydream Nation, with the incessant, hammering "'Cross the Breeze"— that a tender, plaintive stroll. Though Thurston Moore's lyrics are, apparently, about an imagined future in which Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis was the President, the song's sentimental feeling is summoned in its opening, spoken narrations; where Kim Gordon quietly offers "you're it/no, you're it/hey, you're really it." She's evoking the tag games of childhood as a poetic device —an eternal round— but they speak of the song's astonishing sense of musical nostalgia.

The chiming, shimmering, strangely-harmonic riff that kicks in after Gordon's prologue has an irrepressible feeling; fizzing with that last-day-of-school excitement. Yet, rather than stupidly sentimentalizing the past for nostalgia's sake, "Teen Age Riot" knows that it's filled with longing for a time that was, itself, filled with longing; remembering a past in which you only dreamed of the future. Like Gordon's "You're It" opening, it's a self-contained loop; one whose spiraling longings are, wonderfully, perpetually hopeful, optimistic. Every time you play it, it's the last day of school.

The Focus Group

Though "Teen Age Riot" ably sets the table for all the grandeur that follows it, it's not entirely representative of the album. Fresh off making the futurist, sci-fi influenced Sister, Daydream Nation delivers its own cyberpunk doses: "Eric's Trip" Lee Ranaldo's stumble through a lysergic, fevered sex-dream over weirdly mechanized rhythms; "Silver Rocket" finding a twitchy Moore delivering slap-dash "plug in" double-entendres over a thumping alt-rock racket. "Kissability" is sneering and incredulous, a brash slice of hyper-ironic Gordon lyricism proudly pressing a feminist agenda. Plenty of Daydream Nation sounds nasty, not nostalgic.

What the whole sounds like, taken as one, is a band in complete command of their craft, one working with a definite sense of focus. By their fifth album, Sonic Youth had done serious road-time, playing together for countless hours on countless stages. This allowed them to grow into their exploratory, experimental ways, until the klang and chaos took shape; until the noise band begat a noise-rock band begat a straight-up rock combo.

For an entire generation of arty, irregularly-tuning underground hipsters, Daydream Nation served as some sort of Classic Rock bible; its circuit-frying guitar wattage, dada-ist lyricism, and half-ironic political posturing like tenets of a genre. In 1988, with alternative music first hinting at entering the mainstream, Sonic Youth laid down these two almighty slabs of black wax like two stone-carved tablets. After that, things remained forever changed.

Record Label: Blast First
Release Date: October 1988

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