Sonic Youth - Sister (SST, 1987)
All-Time Album Series
To get to the story of how I found "Sister" we are going to have to start by exploring the different ways I found new music back in the day:
1. Record Store Exploration
This is kind of the basis for my digital bins feature, you literally walked into a record store and just started looking through the bins. I, for instance, would look and look, just hoping that something would jump out at me. The bands and genres I listened to sometimes had an aesthetic that I could almost feel immediately when I picked up an album.
That was actually even more of an honor because she is also a famous photographer.
Punk music as a genre was pretty much "born" with the publication of Punk magazine. As you might guess, you got lots of record reviews and lots of opportunities to order albums from record labels you had never heard of.
I had lots of other friends exploring new music. Most of them were in bands I played in. We would discuss albums we had purchased and bands we had seen for hours and hours at practice. I remember playing in bands in high school as a real highlight of an otherwise awful period of my life (he he). As I have mentioned a few times before, I was first handed the album The Clash by The Clash after a band practice.
I hate to say this, but MTV did not always entirely suck. They had shows like 120 Minutes (yes, that is a hyperlink to virtually every episode since 1986) and Yo' MTV Raps that were actually pretty amazing. Hell, I was never a metal guy really but I even liked the early versions of Headbangers Ball.
Dead Boys, The Damned, The Clash, hell all kinds of bands I love were on 120 Minutes all the time. Yo' (the Fab 5 Freddy version) introduced me to so many artists it is hard to recount (will always owe Fab 5 a debt).
Before MTV, and me and my friend Argus were talking about this just the other day, there was a late night network show called "Night Flight" that was often pretty amazing too. Both of us first saw the concert movie Urgh! A Music War on Night Flight (also where I saw Gary Numan for the first time).
Without a doubt, the vast majority of cool music I was introduced to when I was young came to me via girlfriends. I don't know how I managed to be so lucky with girlfriends at a young age or so awful at keeping them, but I had girlfriends with AMAZING taste.
When I first left for college I was still dating a girl from high school, as you can imagine, that did not last long. After that breakup I moved in with my first serious girlfriend Leslie who was a serious club kid in the Dallas area (she was on the guest list of every club). She introduced me to everything from Bauhaus to Christian Death (yes, that was a real band).
After I blew that relationship up, I started dating yet another amazingly cool girl. I remember walking over to her dorm room, and noticing she had these gigantic cool posters on the walls for a band I had never heard of...A band called Sonic Youth.
The two wall-sized posters were for an album called "Daydream Nation" and an album called "Sister." I remember it like it was yesterday. Sure, I screwed that relationship up too, but how lucky was that (I mean Daydream Nation has literally just been released and she was all-over it, remember we didn't have internet and downloads).
Anyway, when I asked her who Sonic Youth was she kind of looked at me like I was an idiot (in fairness she was right).. But she calmly regathered herself, walked over to her record player, and put Sister on. Then we proceeded to make out while listening to one of what turned out to be my favorite albums of all-time.
So, yes, I have fond memories of this album (I do).
A Long Love Affair
Sonic Youth has never been my favorite band.
But Sonic Youth has always been "one of" my favorite bands. They have been a go-to for so long it is really hard to remember them not being in my life. As I just recounted, I first encountered them in 1988 and I am listening to them right now as I type this.
I have seen them live, I have read what they wrote and what they said in interviews, I have watched them on television, I have watched them on YouTube. In our current digital world - even though they split up (sadness) - I have a "Google Alert" set for each of the members of the band.
I own a copy of the Ciccone Youth album for goodness sake (A tribute to Madonna by Sonic Youth - FYI the Sister album ends with Thurston Moore saying Ciccone over and over as well). I have Sonic Youth on Vinyl, cassette, CD, and digital download. I remember when Kim Gordon wrote an article about hip-hop in Rolling Stone magazine. I guess you could say I love Sonic Youth.
As an aside, I love everyone in SY but I have always had a special place in my heart for Kim Gordon. She is kind of the embodiment of everything I said about cool women with great musical taste before. She has always been a pioneer for women in punk/post-punk and sadly had to put up with way too much shit (read her excellent book "Girl In A Band" if you get a chance).
It is also hard to overestimate the influence Sonic Youth has had on alternative music. I don't know of many bands whose influence I hear in as many other bands. Just yesterday, I was listening to Thao & The Get Down Stay Down and my first thought was "I hear some Sonic Youth in there (I even dropped Kim Gordon a tweet about it - kind of crazy, but she sometimes RT's my stuff)."
So Why "Sister?"
I kind of explained this a bit before:
There are plenty of great Sonic Youth albums to choose from, but Sister is the only one I had a make-out session to.
That didn't happen for me the first time I heard "Goo."
But Sister is also probably their strongest album from start to finish. Like most great albums there is not a bad song on the whole thing. Sister probably maintains the best balance between melody, psychedelic freak-out, and strong structure of any Sonic Youth album (By this I mean, there is not a 25 minute psychedelic freak-out on this album). Don't get me wrong, probably the thing I love the most about SY is that they start with typical song structure, go on adventures, and come back. The punk in me just hates 25 minute songs.
Take the song "Tuff Gnarl," it basically has everything I love about SY - a slightly distorted but catchy melody, a really cool bridge, and a great psych freak-out (but one that doesn't go too long). Plus, there is beauty in the mess. That is the craziest thing, you can almost always hear some sadness, beauty, and even sweetness (Don't tell Lee Ranaldo I said that) in great Sonic Youth songs.
I guess at the end of the day (or this day) Sister is the Sonic Youth album that I listen to the most.
Sister is the Sonic Youth album that I feel has the best presentation of their sound and what makes them so special and important. There may be songs on other SY albums I like better, but this is their strongest start to finish album IMHO.
Plus, it fills me with nostalgia for a great time in my life (college).
Daydream Nation is also a pretty great album :)
Also, here is a link to Kim's excellent book!
What is your favorite Sonic Youth album, what do you appreciate most about Sister or Sonic Youth, I would love to hear your opinion, leave a comment!