Daydream Nation

Sonic Youth

DGC Records, 1989

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


No matter how many times I listen to Daydream Nation, one image still burns in my head:that damn candle on the album cover. Listen after listen, it feels like I'm not listening to the album in the right environment. I feel like I need two large sized speakers top of the line 1978 model, a old house with a celing about 30 feet from the ground and a large amount of pinewood.

Richly layered, but most of the layers are walls of white noise, Daydream Nation bursts full of contradictions. The avant-garde sounds of "Silver Rocket" and the lovely "Candle" seem appropriate for high nosed art majors but the rousing teen-age rebellion is all over "Teen Age Riot" and on the nightmarish, "Eric's Trip", lead singer Thurston Moore even says "Can you dig it?"

Fuck yeah, I dig it. Daydream Nation was the Slippery When Wet album for the ultra-hip high school clique who wore black, read Hawthorne and Wilde and smoked incessantly. Too bad it took me until 1994 to pick the album up.

What makes Daydream Nationmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 such a rare album is that it's a definite "mood album" in which all of the songs are memorable. Reading some literature on the album, I found out that Moore often used piano strings to string his guitar with. His ghostly vocal delivery adds to the 'old feel' of the album.

Part punk, part Velvet Underground, part minimalism and all inspiration, Daydream Nation solidified Sonic Youth as the torch carriers of the college music scene in the late 80s. Without major label interference (Geffen knew that it would be ages before this band saw the light of day on contemporary radio), Sonic Youth were able to make this ambitious double album for about $100,000.

Underground heros with a big budget. That conflict erupts in the last fifteen minutes of the album. Merging arty arrangements musically, Moore recants living in the underbelly of New York. "There's bum trash in the hall and my place is ripped.."Moore sings bitterly, it's a stunning visual, especially with the thudding bass and drum section of Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley.

If Daydream Nation was a movie, it would be Kim Gordon who would steal the show. In each of the songs she does vocals for, "The Sprawl", "Cross The Breeze" and especially the sexually charged "Kissability." On "Eliminator Jr.", Gordon sings with a confidence that few female rock singers sang with at that time.

After seeing Sonic Youth play, you see the power of a band that has had some of the most interesting impacts on crowds. About 3/4 of the audience ran to the concession stands or the vendors, scared off by the feedback fucking Moore. The other quarter watched in awe.

For the runners, I simply say "pick up Daydream Nation". It's their most likeable album, even more so than Goo. And if high art pretension intimidates you, don't worry, I heard "Silver Rocket" is a great song to make out to. The band even throws in some humor with the song "Providence". In that song, indie posterboy, Mike Watt's message is on Moore's answering machine. It's basically him bitching Moore out for getting baked and losing some tapes.

With Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth were elevated to college radio legends. And while most of the album has the feeling of a 1984 New Yorker spinning out of control, the heavy guitar sounds offer a padded cushion for the uneasy ride. And unlike the Velvet Underground, you may not want to start up a band after hearing Daydream Nation. You'll just probably go out and start stocking up on all the great college bands of the 80s and find a scene that was still fairly untouched by the record industry.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 1998 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of DGC Records, and is used for informational purposes only.