Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Expending energy discussing a mid/late-career Sonic Youth album on a blog can probably get you fired in some quarters, on charges of vagrancy and irrelevancy, but for reasons unknown, I feel an urge to spill - maybe just a little - the virtual ink on this here rekkid. NYC Ghosts & Flowers was released in 2000. At that rather miserable point in my life, I was suffering the indignity of working at Borders. I can say what I please about that particular outlet, as I have no fear of professional blowback, since it doesn't happen to exist anymore. It went the way of the dinosaurs, which I would regard as justice for you and me. I endured 8 months as a low-paid employee, suffering the indignity of working obscenely early/late hours for but a pittance, and worst of all, suffering its customers. But a dozen years later, w/ the passing of time, I can look back and laugh and at least appreciate several life-long friends I made at the place... and why the fuck am I getting so wistful here and where am I going with this? Of course, it's all about Sonic Youth. The band's album I wish to speak of was released when I was employed there. I have spoken of this before, but I shall repeat: throughout the entire decade known as the 1990s, I barely gave any of Sonic Youth's records a spin. Not even the "classic" pre-major '80s material, records which I had treasured in a previous life (high school). They were a band who'd fallen off the map for moi, a band who seemed to release an endless tally of records I couldn't care for (Goo/Dirty/Experimental Jet Set.../Washing Machine/A Thousand Leaves... there were a lot of them!) and seemed destined to never call it a day. After all, it beats working for a living.
Well, Kim & Thurston are no more, and the band is also on the skids, but if you've been following this blog for more than 5 minutes, you might've read that I had some sort of strange revelation earlier last decade which for some reason had me investigating all the SY discs I'd ignored for 10 years prior. Mr (re)evaluation had me eating words previously uttered and hailing just about all of those said discs as PRETTY FINE INDEED. But that's another entry... for the time being, it's back to NYC Ghosts & Flowers. As a "music consultant" at Borders, I was expected to play on a semi-regular basis a "recent release" for the enjoyment of the worthless mouth-breathers known as customers. The choices in regards to anything of recent vintage which didn't make me want to vomit in my mouth (or which were considered even remotely playable instore) were slim, so I picked the latest from The Yoof. I played it often, I played it a lot. It stuck. Not only is it relatively quiet and sparse - so much so that not a single square complained - but it happens to be one of the band's finest and most under-rated outings. Those nudniks at Pitchfork apparently awarded it 0.0 - a badge of honour the band should wear w/ pride - although for me it works a whole lot better than the two prior albums by the band (1995's Washing Machine and '98's A Thousand Leaves) as an album fully realised; those two other platters I speak of I like, a lot, but they're also filled out w/ several aimless jams which should've been cut to half their lengths to keep 'em all killer/no filler. They weren't.
NYC Ghosts... is only 42 minutes long, and there's nothing I don't like about it. OK, there's the slightly bogue "streamXsonik subway", a wordy and repetitive jaunt w/ an annoying guitar line/melody which really doesn't work, but other than that barely-3-minute track, it's full of understated beauty. There's only 8 tracks and unlike their previous 5 albums, there's not an obvious alt-rock/mosh-pit anthem thrown in the mix for college radio, which may explain why it sunk from view fairly quick. What I find appealing about it is that none of the songs needlessly devolve into noise jams. Sonic Youth used to excel at noise jams; I don't think they have for quite a number of years now. I think they use it lazily. I saw them play here about 6 or 7 years ago - they were boring as hell - and just about every track they played devolved into a pointless noise jam before being resurrected at a moment's notice to lurch back into a chorus. Shit man, that was no noise jam at all! They've done that a thousand times! They know exactly what they're doing! To me it seemed fraudulent of them to even do such a thing. Well, maybe none of that is all that relevant is this particular review... NYC Ghosts... was recorded soon after the band's gear had been stolen, and the result is a stripped-back affair I can dig. Produced by the band and the soon-to-join Jim O'Rourke, for my moolah it's a neglected gem in their 16-album catalogue.


Clinton said...

All the Sonic Youth worshipping on this blog has me running to the toilet (been waiting about 20 years to shoot this one back at you, Dave!)

Clinton, late of M4 fanzine.

Dave said...

Thank you, Clinton, I probably deserve that.