Sonic Youth - Diamonds and Rust: Sonic Youth- Daydream Nation

Sam Wetherell 05/05/2005

The electric guitar is, at times, a rather maligned musical instrument. Nothing increases ones musical cachet like the odd, well-timed revolt against the platoons of MTV2 friendly white male rock bands. The true musical guru will nod his or her head sagely, and extol the virtues of Aphex Twin/Lee Scratch Perry/Massive Attack/Kid A over Oasis/Black Sabbath/The Libertines/Pablo Honey. It is an instrument that, of late, has become associated with tipsy uncles pointing passionately at the stereo during the guitar solo in Bohemian Rhapsody and ordering you to “listen to that class!” But, as Radiohead have put it, anyone can play guitar.

But it takes a particular kind of psychotic audio pyromaniac to consider playing the guitar like Sonic Youth. Daydream Nation is proof that with a enough creativity, an unhinged mindset, and more drugs than you can possibly believe, the electric guitar can become a living, breathing organism, a work of art in the original sense of the word.

If you cock your head in a certain way, and squint very hard, you may notice that the first seven tracks of this album influenced the next ten years of rock music. The fleeting ghost of “Silver Rocket” haunts every track on Definitely Maybe, “Teen Age Riot” is a shadowy figure lurking behind The Bends smoking a cigarette and looking bored, Loveless has been dipped head first in Daydream Nation, and left to soak for 4-6 years.

From the fizzling and ephemeral first thirty seconds of “Teen Age Riot”, before that riff kicks in and the song rips a whole in the fabric of time and steps gingerly through it, to the final jarring notes of the last act of “Trilogy”, this album is a special kind of masterpiece. “The Sprawl” is an epic twisted anthem of consumerism, prostitution and urban alienation, with fleeting glimpses of chilling lyricism - “I grew up in a shotgun row, sliding down the hill, out front were the big machines, steel and rusty now I guess” - placed either side of two monstrously huge instrumentals.

“Total Trash”, at a particular time of day, in particular circumstances could well be my favourite song of all time. Then again there's probably a particular set of extrodinary circumstances under which “The year 3000” by Busted would be my favourite song of all time, so it might not be saying much. The whole track is based on a fantastically infectious and terrifyingly fuzzy guitar riff. About half way in, the track stumbles into a jaw-droppingly insane instrumental. Slowly, from repetition to repetition to the riff begins to mutate, deviating more and more from its original sound. Eventually, after a few minutes of this, the notes shatter into a million pieces that disperse into the atmosphere, twitching and slowly dissolving into the closest possible thing to silence itself. Then… sickeningly… the riff lurches back in, a woozy drunken version of its former self, the same riff two sleepless nights and two bottles of vodka later in a sleazy hotel room. The album then explodes into “Hey Joni”. It's more poppy, but it still sounds like Kim and Gordon have detuned their guitars and locked them in the primate enclosure of Twycross Zoo. But then…

Providence. A beautifully sparse, and spine tingling two minute interlude. A few distant and meandering piano chords are layered over a rich gust of crackling white noise which sounds like the hum of a blowtorch magnified to a deafening scale. A deliciously vague sample of what could be a police radio, or the correspondence between two criminals communicating on a walkie talkie (its actually two wonderfully strange answer phone messages left by the band members on tour) cuts through this texture like a breadknife. “Its 10:30” this echoing ethereal voice slurs “we're calling from Providence Rhode Island”. As soon as I first finished listening to this piece of music, I must confess to looking up the word “providence” in a dictionary. It means God.

I could go on for a thousand words. I could extol the beauty of “Candle”, a love-song to mentholated spirits “I can't stay a candle, Gotta change my mind before it burns out” the stomach churning pulses of “Rain King” and “Kissability”, and the final screeching and crumbling sign off of “Trilogy”.

It is a piece of pure guitar art, guitar sex and guitar punishment. …Listen to that class!