Sonic Youth – Dirty (1992) & 100th Post!

I find it hard to believe I’ve reached 100 posts. I don’t think I’ve ever held on to an enterprise for so long and up to such a satisfying, round, psychologically wholesome number. I’ve thought a lot about how I could possibly celebrate this date, and I couldn’t really come up with anything flashy or really festive. My favorite thing to do, at all times, is to just listen to and play music, and write about it. It’s a limited skill set, I know, but it’s managed to keep me happy through this seemingly endless winter over here, and through all the seemingly endless winters I’ve been lucky enough to have to go through. So I guess that’s what I’ll do, today, as I try on most days – listen to this great album, and try to put a bit of the experience into words.

Sonic Youth feels like one of those bands which demands a serious baggage of information in order to be approachable by a would-be critic. The same vibe applies to the uninitiated listener as well, although, in my opinion, I think it’s a myth that works mostly against the band’s musical way of expression. For some reason, I get the feeling Sonic Youth is considered one of those proto-hipster bands which only true razor-thin musical tastes can hold any claim of understanding as a whole. Luckily, I’m not going to attempt a history of the band, since it’s been around a very long time now, experimenting and playing with a myriad of styles and genre bending their way across the decades. I’ll just try to write about Dirty, their 1992 album, the first of their discography I ever listened to, and the one which I still enjoy the most.

Sonic Youth are known as sort-of tonal mad scientists, a rock band on the fringe of dissolution into noise, an outfit prone to sudden bouts of amplifier feedback ritual and worship. Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten fame would praise their unique and heretic approach to their own music and their musical instruments (tens of busted up and experimented upon guitars kept in cardboard boxes all over the stage, like so many broken furniture parts) as he was deciding to leave Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds on account of Nick’s heroine fever-dream music being just a little bit too mainstream back in the early nineties. Kurt Cobain used to idolize them and covered one of their songs with Nirvana. That’s how much of an impression Sonic Youth leave, while somehow managing to stay in the shadows of the industry, thoroughly askew in their abrasive sound armor plating, merely flirting with pop sensibility on some albums and completely smashing it against the wall in others.

Dirty is one of those albums which are more accessible, more radio friendly, if you will, although I think that’s saying a bit much. Sonic Youth sounds on this album like that band you’ve always wanted to make when you were an adolescent in the mid nineties, but never had the balls to pull off, not really being sure if you wanted to rock for the statement or for the chicks. I’ve never heard a band manage to pull off making noises with guitars in such a way as to make it seem very complicated and artful. This music sounds to me like some form of heavy, toxic, extremely pure grunge concentrate, a sort of fanged punk mutation with less jumping around and more gritting of teeth, sensual in its approach of noise and relentless in its construction of sexy, simple, furious songs which pound themselves into your head and stay there for good. I haven’t listened to Dirty in over five years, and yet when I played it for myself yesterday it felt like not a day had passed, I could recognize the sound instantly, and it was scintillating.

The grunge reference comes up mostly because of the fact that Kim Gordon’s singing style reminds me so much of Courtney Love’s, and Hole is one of my favorite bands of the nineties, but that’s not to say Dirty is a grunge album – the vibe is very different, although I find it hard to explain. I guess it has to do with the background – Sonic Youth come from New York and draw a lot of strength from The Velvet Underground’s pioneering work, which is all very nice, but doesn’t overlap with grunge’s direct lineage. There’s a much more detached, “meta” feeling about this music, even though it’s every bit as massive and powerful as any of the Seattle scene’s outfits of the age.

In any case, enough musical history nitpicking. Do yourselves a favor and play this album loud, or with a good pair of headphones. It wants to scrape at your ears, and it’ll be a very pleasurable kind of pain if you’re anything like me. Thank you very much for sticking with me for 100 posts! I’ll see you soon!