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Sonic Youth


Washing Machine




Washing Machine CD coverThe first thing you notice about Washing Machine is that it is the slickest and most "traditional" packaging Sonic Youth has ever done. Have they gone corporate? Where is the scrawl. Now the photos are neat square ups and the band pictures seem like Banana Republic fashion shots. No more torn collages. No more hand written, messy typography. Please, no, they went corporate? Phew. From the first notes you can see that the graphics relate to the progression of this CD in the Sonic Youth catalog. It is the same structure just better produced with a cleaner and clearer designs. All the same elements in a brighter package. All April fresh for your enjoyment.

Becuz is the first track with Kim Gordon channeling Patti Smith. There is a hint of megaphone accent to the vocals adding a new depth to Kim's singing. It is also a nice contrast to the brighter and cleaner production. You can really hear a seperation of the instruments here. It is not a detraction or a departure. You can still hear elements of the past. Piano string guitars, turbine chords, pushing and banging rythyms are all stiil hear. It alls seems more thought out and musicianly.

Junkie's Promise, the second cut, begins with trademark "Youth" feedback and begins to tell a tale of addiction. "A hundred dollars used to be more than enough. Now a hundred times a day and still it's not enough". This is evidently a song Thurston Moore sings about his own Heroin use and the addiction he saw around him. The song is so well crafted. It is a collage of all the Sonic Youth elements from a twenty year career delivered with maturity and surety. The end drums itself out after an indulgence is "SY" jamming. More of the sound we have grown to love.

Third on this album is the rare Lee Renaldo song and vocals, Saucer-like. It starts with a skewed, lifted riff from Eight Miles High by Byrds. But this song is really nice. It has a hooks and it has a pop charm to it. Look my toe is actually tapping to a Sonic Youth song. The end is a neat little portion with Renaldo talking over wah-wah guitar and thematic feedback drenched chords and then bakc to Eight MIles high. This is one of the best tracks on the album.

The title track, Washing Machine, is a nine minute opus. You have Kim's vocal that bring to mind of the late Wendy O' Williams (Plasmatics) talking/singing vocals. As she talks the bass and drums play off each other waiting for the guitars to come in. You expect them to come crashing in but they build in a soft slow appraoch and then it becomes a melodic jam with more story telling from Kim not sounding like herself at all. After she announces "I put a quarter in the washing machine" the guitar blazes and chicken scratches into a mega jam. You hear that screaming guitar like a jet about to hit the speed of sound. The guitar equivalent of G-force. White knuckle grip on the yoke but eventually it comes into control and you are left in semi-weightlessenss to enjoy the glide.

Unwind is a pretty song that flirst with commercial success. Neat guitar plucks with maracas being used as drum sticks makes it sound like a Blonde Redhead song (A Smells Like Records Band-Steve Shelley's Label). A solid "SY" sound. Little Girl Trouble, the next song, is a soft and innocent song that feels like a sing along with the two Kims, Gordon and Deal. It makes me think of Early Frank Zappa, The Raincoats and Sonic Youth's first EP's- I Dream I Dream and EVOL's-Shadow Of A Doubt. Slow and beautiful. Kim sings again in the next track, No Queen Blues, in a natural progression. There is a little anger in this track but it is more contained and the lead guitar work is very mature, well crafted and hints at the blues. It is by no means a blues song in the traditional sense.

Panty lines is a departure from the rest of the album. Kim Gordon is on vocals. It is a more disonant then any other piece on the CD. There is a funky quality to it. The drums are the real star of this song. A variation on funk , jazz and blues. There is a restraint to this song despite its dischord. Coming right up behind and in defiance of its predecessor and convention is an unnamed and unnumbered instrumental. With a beauty only Sonic Youth can create and contrasting the song before. It goes out with a whales whine guitar and crash and into silence.

When listening to the song Skip Tracer I keep thinking of the past EVOL album. I hear In The Kingdom #19 running all through this one. It is not an exact lift from #19 but owes a lot to this past composition. This time it is Lee Renaldo on the vocals. The Final track is the single and most recognizeable of the record. At first listen to the The Diamond Sea I kept thinking I had heard this song on the album already. But it is the final cycle of all the other songs soaked and bled together. Thurston Moore's vocal have never been more clear and well performed. Mellow and psychdelic, this is destined to be a classic, even at 19 minutes in length.

I think I get it now. Washing Machine. Often I have thought how great it would be if we could take our tired, addled brains and put them through a wash, fluff and dry. Having a renewed cleanliness we could look at the same old things with a rejunvinated freshness. Washing Machine is just that for the Sonic Youth sound. From the graphics, to the music and production it has been cleansed of all the dirt. All the that is left is the pure essence of what has made Sonic Youth remain as the late twentieth century and early 2000's most watched and anticipated bands. Their influence is unrelenting. Maybe it was the move out of NYC? Maybe it is the mellowing that comes with age, maturity and parenthood? Whichever, the result is a crisp, clean sound that is just as fresh today as the recording of the sessions at Radio City Music Hall in 1982. There are not many bands still creating and performing that can attest to that. Thanks for cleaning up your act.

---James Kraus, May 24, 2005