Sonic Youth - ‘Sonic Nurse’ (Geffen)
03 Jun 2004
19th studio-lp from the still-crucial nyc veterans of squall; release - '04.
They remain the earnest hopefuls in a scene-led hotbed of imitators. Sonic Youth may have a combined age of about 200 (which makes their name that much more ironic), yet their hunger and desire to invent remains as untainted and prestigious as when they first clawed their guitar pick-ups to high buggery in the very early 80s.
And, what with that other most notable of US alt-acts from the same decade - Pixies - back on the block, what context it is to see that one of rock's most proficient, prolific and influential acts is continuing to create captivating noise-collages of the most hypnotic, mesmerising order. 'Sonic Nurse', the band's 19th studio album, was recorded across July 2003 to February of '04, and such lack of duress results in their most cohesive and intriguing work since, well, some have cited their perennial 'Daydream Nation'.
Rubbish, of course; Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley - plus latter-day recruit Jim O' Rourke - have been quietly fantastic on a very regular basis ever since their most notable work. Like most legends, however, after the sheer accomplishment of their most landmark effort, sustaining the momentum is something the media has had more of a trouble approaching than the musicians concerned.
Still, judging 'Sonic Nurse' on a purely track-by-track album basis, this would be a competent exhibition no matter who conjured it. Songs dreamily lapse into one another, oft breaking down to the band's customary flurry of feedback and scratching dissonance, while melody hasn't been this prevalent in the band's repertoire for some years. And even despite the more rabid harmonics, 'Nurse' somehow retains an element of late-night sweetness - a city-f(r)ied daze - the bearer of a deeply wraithlike series of entwining guitar peaks and troughs throughout.
The steely abrasion of 'Pattern Recognition' sets the tone as opener (the first of eight songs to crush the five-minute mark), proffering interlocking, eerie instrumental sequences and Gordon's croaking warble to dizzying effect. The shorter, simpler 'Unmade Bed' follows, Thurston-sung, as does the sexual deviance of 'Dripping Dream', the band's most tongue-in-cheek horny moment yet. 'Dude Ranch Nurse', the centrepiece, is simply frightening - the invitation for a (hopefully) fictitious hospital-staff to 'give you a shot' should be the scariest thing you've ever heard.
It's all so sweeping, so subtle; and so intricate are the parts, so humble the (self-)production, that it's open to the listener to pick apart the crushing contrasts - trust us, they're there; they're just a bit shy at times (take the Moore-beauty of 'New Hampshire', or sloping, ethereal slumber of Ranaldo's 'Paper Cup Exit' for demos: as toweringly beautiful and dramatic as midnight waves crashing against a desolate, fast-receding coastline). It peaks, however, in the intimately majestic, Kim-purred 'I Love You Golden Blue', so delicate and awash with its own devastating grandeur that it takes a whole two minutes before it even begins; its precedent is ambient, rattling noise-bliss.
Not just merely ahead of the pack, but amidst their own 'pack' entirely, in 'Sonic Nurse', Sonic Youth merit the ovation of 'innovators' more-so than any other. Rue the very instant that ever changes.