15 November 2007

Rock epic of the month: "Trilogy" (Sonic Youth) 1988

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

This month, I'm all excited because Sonic Youth are touring in February. Now I went off Sonic Youth a little while back when they lost their song thread and just started putting out art-wank.

However, before this execrable part of their careers, they released a remarkable string of albums that positively dazzled. The best of these came at the midpoint of this sequence and it was Daydream Nation.

This is the reason I'm all excited about Sonic Youth touring - they are going to play Daydream Nation from start to finish.

Daydream Nation would have to rank in my all-time top 5 favourite albums. There isn't a single dud track on it. So of course, it's topical that the rock epic for this month comes from this album.

But which one to choose? There are several tracks that qualify as rock epics from what was a sprawling (puns: you gotta love them) double LP: "Teen Age Riot" (6:57), "The Sprawl" (7:42), "'Cross The Breeze" (7:00) and "Total Trash" (7:33).

But I went for the bleeding obvious and chose "Trilogy", a ripper three-parter that manages to reference William Gibson (natch), Dinosaur Jr and ZZ Top. In total, it comes to 13 minutes and 59 seconds.

Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had played with various groups prior to forming Sonic Youth with bassist (and painter) Kim Gordon and went through a broad succession of drummers and 3 albums, including a live one, before hiring Steve Shelley just before recording the EVOL album. Sister followed.

Shelley added an urgency to Sonic Youth's sound that allowed Moore and Ranaldo to go nuts over the top of. People never notice Shelley's drumming under the dissonance, discordance, feedback, unusual tunings and bizarre modifications that Sonic Youth is better known for, but his is a driving rhythm that holds it all together with the rumbling basslines of Gordon.

And then they recorded Daydream Nation.

"Trilogy" is the closing three tracks of the album, a blistering three parter:

"a) The Wonder" - 4:15

"b) Hyperstation" - 7:12

"z) Eliminator Jr" - 2:37

Vocals on The Wonder and Hyperstation are Moore's, whereas Gordon takes over lead vocals on "Eliminator Jr".

"The Wonder" is a hard driving number with some really great sticks work from Shelley, and serves to set the mood for "Hyperstation" to follow.

"Hyperstation" is a moody atmospheric piece with some rather nice twanging from Ranaldo and Moore.

The last part, "Eliminator Jr", I always felt was nearly out of place in this trilogy. This was, as the name implies, a reference to ZZ Top and Dinosaur Jr. It's a scuzzy, riffy track that is almost garage rock in it's approach with shouted vocals that would almost be called "cheerleader" if Gordon had a higher voice.

After recording Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth went on to sign with a major label - Geffen - and partially enjoyed financial success courtesy of grunge.

Folks, I don't have anything for you on YouTube this month, as the quality just isn't there, but I do have the next best thing - Soundpedia.

You may need to register to listen. Which I fully recommend that you do - Soundpedia is pretty good.

Listen here by clicking on the "Play" button (titled "Listen") near the middle of your screen.

And enjoy.

And thanks go to the Rev Jenner J Hull of The Church of the Everlasting Groove for putting me on to this fine site.


Plonka said...

I have to admit, I was never a big Sonic Youth fan.

But you've been Tagged...

Dikkii said...

Whoa, another blog tag.

I will have to check it out. Thanks, Plonka.

Michael Bains said...

I don't even know the name of the one Sonic CD I do have. It's got "Androgynous Mind" on it though. Any clue?

Anyhow, I do want to get Sister again. I wore that cassette out!

Dikkii said...

MB, I think that might have been Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star from about 1993-ish. That was when SY started moving towards an exclusively art-wank direction.

And I agree that Sister rocks.

Michael Bains said...

Ahhh that's it! Yeah, most of it just goes in weird directions incoherently. I suppose if I was still a big doper I'd enjoy the lostness of it. Think I'm too old for that kinda thing now, though.

Dikkii said...

You might have a point about that. Funnily enough when I was that age I never saw the association between Sonic Youth and dope. I can't understand why not.

I saw that particular SY album as almost cashing in on the short-lived "lo-fi" thing that was doing big business at the time. I think Pavement and the Archers of Loaf were the big deal in this department.