by Alison Ross
I have always loved the band name, Sonic Youth. The band and its music conjure potent aural imagery of boisterous, bombastic clamor and the conjoining visual imagery of a Jackson Pollack painting - dark-hued noise spattered in barbaric fashion on a defiant canvas.
Some would call the music of Sonic Youth more "white noise" than anything and I see their point, but for me, it's a bit more colorfully anarchic than that. White noise implies some sort of restraint, and while Sonic Youth certainly employs a less erratic ethos than, say, the industrial noise outfit Ministry, the band still has delicious debris of chaotic cacophony strewn throughout its catalogue of tunes.
The word "sonic" has always intrigued my ear and verbal psyche anyway; it has the unusual virtue of being almost onomatopoetic, because its utterance requires audible emphasis. It's forcefully poetic.
Sonic Youth has been around since the 1980s, and I have enjoyed them sporadically since that time. Daydream Nation is their undeniable masterpiece, fusing aggressive generic noise with sleek melodies. The band's other stand-out efforts include Dirty, Goo, and Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star, but really, I would say the majority of their albums are stellar in some way, including their more recent ones.
The Eternal is Sonic Youth's 2009 release, and for me, it works better than Rather Ripped, their previous CD. It has more cocky self-assurance in the way that it presents its art-punk stylings, and the songs are denser and more dynamic, and also more varied in genre, summoning the sounds of grunge, classic rock, punk, and post-punk - all filtered through Sonic Youth's own atonal-guitar and distinctively-indistinctive vocal ethic. Album highlights include the fiercely bouncy Anti-Orgasm, the darkly perky Poison Arrow, the serpentine Calming the Snake, and the deliriously epic Massage the History.
Joy Division had a song called The Eternal and while Sonic Youth has a more labyrinthine, layered sound than their sparser predecessors, one can hear tinges of Ian Curtis and Company's music in some of the songs, which begs the question as to whether the album's namesake is an homage to the post-punk pioneers. I suppose it doesn't matter, in the end, but one interesting observation is the fact that the album is almost like the antithesis of eternity, with its refusal to succumb to tune-sprawl like on some of its earlier efforts. It has a cropped, compressed, coherent feel. At the same time, when one listens to Sonic Youth's ferocious squall of guitars and frenzy of oh-so-carefully crafted discord, it's hard not to picture infinity, with its suggestion of barely contained mania.
Sonic Youth are eternally young, eternally noisy, and eternally NOW.