Daydream Nation review by Sonic Youth

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  • Released: Sep 30, 1988
  • Sound: 10
  • Lyrics: 9
  • Overall Impression: 10
  • Reviewer's score: 9.7 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.9 (23 votes)
Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation

Sound — 10
Sonic Youth had spent their first 8 years in semi-obscurity in the New York art-rock scene, until the release of Daydream Nation, the album which catapulted the band from underground innovators to alternative-rock legends. Their use of noise (i.e. feedback, pick scraping, rakes, effects), alternative tunings, and other objects (screwdrivers, drumsticks, etc.) is strikingly avant garde, but they use these techniques masterfully, creating beautiful atmospheres or abrasive breakdowns. "Teenage Riot" is the best, but also worst, example of their sound. The intro exhibits dense, beautiful clean guitar, then the song shifts to the fuzzy distorted riff for which the song is known. However, the absence of noise on this song stands in contrast to the rest of the songs on the album. Guitar sound ranges from fuzzy in "Teenage Riot," to clean in "Candle"'s intro, to the most satisfying crunch you'll ever hear in "Eliminatior Jr.", the latter named for sounding like "a combination of Dinosaur Jr. and 'Eliminator'-era ZZ Top." Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo run through a variety of techniques, such as arpeggios and tremolo picking. Kim Gordon's throbbing base shines on songs such as "'Cross the Breeze" and "The Sprawl." Steve Shelley's drumwork on "Rain King" and the aforementioned "Teenage Riot" fits very well with the music, particularly when he works the bass drums on "Rain King" and "The Wonder." The best song, in my opinion, has to be "The Sprawl." The song starts with heavy bass and clean riffs, before breaking down into near silence and re-emerging with a beautiful clean riff laced with feedback. The whole outro is one of the most beautifully depressing moments in music history: a clean, descending guitar line juxtaposed over grating, abrasive feedback. The overall result is a spectacular moment of both beauty and decay, communicating emotions previously unexpressed in music.

Lyrics — 9
Most, if not all, of Sonic Youth's lyrics are as avant-garde as their music, and thus fit very well with the music. Thurston and Kim share vocal duties. Fast-paced songs such as "Silver Rocket" have lyrics to match, Thurston singing so fast that his lyrics are almost incomprehensible. Tense songs such as "Eric's Trip" and "Rain King" are sung with intensity by Thurston, and Kim Gordon musters up all the angst she can on "'Cross the Breeze": "I took a look into your hate/It made me feel very up to date/I wanna know!/I think I'd better go!" The lyrics of "Rain King" seem almost thrown together: "He's a shot-gun school-yard street-wise white-hot kid/with a whipped-cream phone-call break-down rain-king fist/It's mine to countdown/as daylight sparks." Anyone looking for a definite meaning on his own will find it difficult. Lyrics are pretty angst-y, the title of "Teenage Riot" being witness to this. The song itself was originally titled "Rock & Roll for President," and is supposedly about a utopic country where J Mascis is president. The title of "The Sprawl' is a reference to a futuristic megalopolis stretching from NYC to Atlanta. Eric's Trip" refers to the drug hallucination of a character in an Andy Warhol film. Overall, lyrics fit very well with the music, though they are less than clear.

Overall Impression — 10
01. Teenage Riot - clean intro with great singing by Kim. Great guitar riffs and drumwork. Pretty standard, not quite as interesting as the rest of the songs, and a little long at times, but the most instantly catchy song nonetheless. 02. Silver Rocket - opens with a tense distorted arpeggio, then shifts to a punky, three-chord verse. From there the song breaks down into a cacophany of feedback, symbol crashes, and effects completely devoid of any rhythm or melody, then somehow morphs back into song. Great example of the noise-chaos that SY is known for. 03. The Sprawl - a bass-driven song spoken/sung by Kim. Great riffs, great atmosphere. An amazing example of SY's ability to de- and re-construct a song. The bridge goes from choppy riffs to near-silent picking to the emotional outro previously described. A spectacular song. 04. 'Cross The Breeze - begins with a clean, pretty intro, then enters right into a tense, bass-driven fast picking and another noise outro that repeats the clean intro riff. The song is overflowing with riffs and would be really fun to play if it weren't in such an ungodly tuning. Another great song. 05. Eric's Trip - another tense song with a lot of psychedelic effects. The bass essentially carries the melody while Lee and Thurston blast effects, feedback, and pick scrapes. A fun, very singable song. 06. Total Trash - a very likable song with some great riffs and great singing by Thurston. Like "Silver Rocket" the song boasts another interesting (in a good way) feedback breakdown. Very abrasive but very likable, an archetypical SY song in structure and sound. 07. Hey Joni - like "Eric's Trip," a very tense, psychedelic song with some great crunchy guitar and harmonics. Thurston's singing is again great. 08. Providence - the weirdest song on the album by far. Consists of a piano part played by Thurston, over the wonderfully dark sound of an amp burning out. The vocals are an answering machine tape of Mike Watt calling Thurston about some cables he lost. 09. Candle - begins with a beautiful arpeggio, then moves into the song. A little different from the rest of their stuff, the song is obviously more relaxed, until it moves into a rhythmic, noisy breakdown with some great bass and tremolo strumming. Great song. 10. Rain King - an awesome rhythmic song with some great drumming in the intro. Great use of feedback and an epic riff in the verse. Amazing song. 11. Kissability - my least favorite song, but still pretty good. Well-sung by Kim, with great distorted tremolo solos. Gets a bit repetitive after awhile, but many listeners would like it. Good but not great. 12. The Wonder - good riffs, great singing by Thurston, and showcases the tense vibes that SY creates throughout the album. Again, good but not great. 13. Hyperstation - The Wonder's conjoined twin, with another great riff in the verse and some good harmonics in the bridge. Another tense song, Thurston apparently singing about a bad night out: "smashed up against a car at 3 AM/kids dressed up for basketball beat me in my head/there's bum trash in my hall and my place is ripped/I totaled another amp, I'm calling in sick." Probably the most straightforward lyrics on the album. Also lends the album it's title. 14. Eliminator Jr. - a short, quick burst of gratuitous guitar crunch and crashing cymbals. Kim sings in an almost yell, and her bass throbs throughout the song. The outro crunches on with some lod echoey strums and then stops on a dime, bringing one of the definitive albums of alternative rock to an end. Overall, this is a legendary album from one of the original alternative bands, a must-have for any underground/indie/college-rock fan, and certainly any Sonic Youth fan. If it were lost/stolen I would definitely buy it again, without thinking.

5 comments sorted by best / new / date

    One revision: Lee sings on "Hey Joni," not Thurston. He also sings on "Eric's Trip" and "Rain King." He and Thurston sound very similar, so it was hard to tell.
    how can you know all that and still don't hear the difference between thurston and lee? plus there aren't three chords in the verse to silver rocket; just two
    i saw it on wikipedia and thought it would be a good idea to come back give Lee credit. and you're right about the verse, i was thinking about the riff after the intro. sorry...
    Can't believe there's only one review for this classic album. Maybe i'll write up one myself!
    i hear a humongous difference between lee and thurston's voice; lee has a more traditional and subtle vocal style and thurston has a more rough high pitched, almost punk sound to his voice.