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The Friday Morning Listen: Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation (1988)

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By Mark Saleski

I've written about this before, the mystery of “Why do I like this?" The discussions that are apt to be generated can be enlightening. If you start at the very restrictive end of the scale, there's the idea that beauty has some sort of objective element, supposedly making evaluation a simple exercise. Going along with that is the sentiment that there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.

I'm sorry, but I've always thought that was a big load of Kenny G records.

Oooh, too harsh on the G-Man? Maybe...but read on.

I come from the other end of the spectrum, where everything goes. That's a little generic so let's go a little further. I don't think that there are any rules about what is good. If you like something, then it's good. Even a little more extreme: if you perceive something as music, then that's what it is. It's pure subjectivity. It's also the main reason for why I don't bother writing negative reviews. Yeah sure, the function of a critic is supposed to be to evaluate things, pass judgment, and then send that along to unsuspecting listeners who supposedly don't know any better. The thing is, I don't really feel qualified to decide what you might like. On the other hand, I'm obviously qualified to tell you what my own ear parts like, and that's what I prefer to spend my time doing. Dumping on artists who don't do much for me? A waste of time. I might not like Nickelback but plenty of other people do. No amount of my bloviating is going to “save" a potential consumer of that music.

Sonic Youth is a band that fits perfectly into this debate. I can see why some listeners are turned off by them. While there are melodies lurking, they are often buried under a slagpile of noise and dissonance. And that is why I love them so much.

Daydream Nation was the first Sonic Youth record I bought. It must have been because of some hype in either Rolling Stone or Spin, because I'm pretty sure I had heard nothing by them on the radio. All I know is that when words like “distortion" and “feedback" are flung my way, the listening section in my head starts to pay attention. Initial listens to this recording left me almost bewildered. I had never heard anything before that employed such a wide range of seemingly unrelated musical fragments. Right alongside nice melodies are explosions of atonal feedback and chaos. Moore and Ranaldo do things to their equipment that just might be a little bit illegal, things that make their guitars wish they had grown up to be glockenspiels in the high school marching band.

I'm not really sure why the collisions of sound are to my liking. There are textures and surprising shards of sound that remind me of the how light can glint off the jagged surface of fallen rock, or how wildflowers can grow out of the trunk of an abandoned car.

As for Kenny G? For me, there's no surprise there. Even so, that doesn't go far enough. I mean, there's not a huge amount of surprise in a Diana Krall album, but I still enjoy them. Still, I'm not about to say that the G-Man makes “bad" music. It just isn't for me.

...just like Sonic Youth might not be for you.

I'll try not to hold it against you.

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This story appears courtesy of Something Else!.
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