Sister is Sonic Youth's seventh and most pivotal album. Here Sonic Youth has taken a leap into acceptance on a grander scale. They have refined their skills and fleshed out another level for themselves. The recording does not come across as an intentional jump at commercial success. It was an evolutionary leap that left some fans bewildered but some awed. Critics also were on or off about the Sister album. But if time is the test, they passed. Sister is an amazing and enduring album. An "indie" classic and benchmark.
The album starts with, Schizophrenia. This is one of the all time great Sonic Youth songs. It's what I always think of as true Sonic Youth. Starting with a softly, driving beat the guitar comes in and you hear the early days. Twangy, twisted, out of tune but perfect. In comes Thurtson Moore's sardonic delivery telling a tale of meeting an old friend's sister, "She is insane....She's just a bitch with a golden chain". Instead of the surreal lyrics of their past it is poetic story telling. Once Schizophrenia takes us home, the tune goes into a "Youth" style bridge into Kim Gordon's vocals, now the dreamy voicals are in the head of the insane as the musical madness builds to a dervish twirl, then mellow release of the crazy dance to slowing and spent exhaustion.
Catholic Block is another identifying Sonic Youth song. The "just plugged in my crappy guitar" feedback beginning is fantastic. The whammy bar chords leading into the plucky and reptitive riff, the angry vocals being pushed out by drums and punching guitar, Sonic Youth have hit their stride and it sneers and rocks. Guitar chords speed up like turbine engines, the drums pound. All the old soundscapes are now focused and directed. Jetting out of control to a scream the sounds comes down and decends into a open, deepening sliding strum. The anger has landed, softly and released.
Beauty Lies In The Eye is EVOL sounding Kim Gordon vocaled soundscape and lyrics. Its poetry is what Kim does best. Two-faced, Ironic lyrics breathed over a wanton, erotic soundtrack. The subject of insanity comes up, again. Insanity lends itself to Sonic Youth's sound. Crazy rythyms, mad cap guitar work. All of this continues through the album. Pipeline/Kill Time is a track that delves so perfectly into those themes. Most of the rest of the tracks on this album are really good but seem to lack the staying appeal of the opening three. But when the band gets away from the lyrics and just opens up there are amazing sound jams. Tuff Gnarl, although a great name for their music, is hard listening. Pacific Coast Highway also starts out challenging the listener but then takes an abrupt turn and I hear how the band Unwound came up with their sound. The Kill Rock Stars label band known for feedback, supersonic-guitar noted sound collages that take abrupt emotional turns, "emo" if you will.
Known for a few cover songs, Sonic Youth takes on Crime's-Hot Wire My Heart. It is a excellent cover that leaves me one saying, "Hey, Sonic Youth can actually play real songs". It incorporates that guitar pluggin in-tro heard earlier and real guitar solos. Hot Wire not just points out an influence of the Sonic Youth sound but seems to set out and prove they can play an actual song. Kim Fowley's Bubblegum cover on EVOL remains my favorite but Hot Wire is fun, uppity and highly successful cover of a punk rock classic.
Cotton Cross with it's guitar chord entrance repeating as an echo has rarely heard duet with Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon singing about "angels are dreaming of you". We are back to the pervasive undercurrent of this album, pretty, moody, aircrafting guitar glides that sound like maybe the master tape is slowing and regaining its original speed. White Cross is driving and fast.
The last track, Master-Dik, an extra to the cd is not one of my favorites. Discordant, disjointed and loud it has some interesting sounds to it. When all is said and done, it's a mess and the CD would not be held back by its omission.
I didn't really like Sonic Youth back when this album came out. I saw them live and they were so awaful I felt cheated. Sister grew on me. I found myself repeating lyrics in my head, "I Got a Catholic Block", "Schizophrenia is taking me home" and kept going back and listening. It crept into me and got under my skin. I began to understand. After seeing them live the second time I was a believer. I got it. But it was this album that broke through for me and it was a break through for Sonic Youth. You can't help but hear the magnitude that this album had on future bands to come and the "grunge" and "sluge" genres. Their ability to garner critcal acclaim while continuing to experiment with their sound and inspire others is way beyond the trendy Radiohead. This is the real deal. If you want one of the most influential albums of the last twenty years. Here it is, Sister. Sonic Youth.