Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sonic Youth: Hits Are For Squares

I should never claim to be an expert. There are too many things I know I don't know. But what keeps this blog going is my curiosity. I'm not here to preach at you, I'm here to learn. Up until this year, my experience with Sonic Youth was that I knew the song "Kool Thing" from Guitar Hero, and their cover of "Superstar" from Juno. I knew that by and large, their sound was experimental and generally seemed like something you really needed to be prepared to hear. You can't listen to Sonic Youth like you would to a normal radio-friendly pop group. They will twist you around, chew you up and spit you out in all their wild, mercurial, feedback-laden experimental glory.

So that's the sense in which a compilation album - not really a "Greatest Hits" by traditional standards - comes in handy, because I honest to God would never know where to begin with Sonic Youth. The format of this CD is brilliant in that regard, because instead of picking chart singles, an irrelevant measure of success for this band, they contacted famous fans of their music and got them to pick a song for inclusion. More bands should imitate this cherry picking form of a package.

It doesn't quite reveal anything I didn't already think about Sonic Youth: I was prepared for the squealing, halting crunch of "100%" and the bracing, melted-down grunge of "Sugar Kane." And while I didn't necessarily think of this band for the whispery, soft-focus "Shadow of a Doubt," it makes a nice tension-breaker and shows how well they play moods, not just loudly. At 16 tracks, an hour and 16 minutes thanks to some of the lengthier jams on here, the compilation hangs together in a surprisingly gripping, cohesive experience. As many thrashy, off-kilter experiments as they whip up, it's always ear-catching, never tedious or laborious. It's one thing to be an adventurous, experimental group, it's another to be one that really sounds good for 75 minutes of tracks culled from a 25-year career. If you're looking to become a fan of this band, or convert someone you know, this set will do the trick. It doesn't feel like a club I have been shut out of, it feels like a vital part of my everyday listening now.

The highlight of the album from me is the sublime "Stones," which has a great two-minute build, proceeds as an only-slightly-off-center pop song for a little bit, before exploding into one of the simplest, yet most effective final three minutes on the album. Also great is the utterly mesmerizing near-instrumental "Rain on Tin." These songs highlight exactly what this band does so well, taking rock and breaking it out of its shell.

Buy This Album Now: iTunes Canada // iTunes USA // Amazon.ca // Amazon.com

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