Sunday, July 19, 2009

Really, really late to the party

Sonic Youth was on "The Simpsons" ... seriously, what took me so long?

Every week until pre-season coverage kicks into gear, I'll take a random look at the world of entertainment. Once in a while, that piece of pop culture will be relevant. Other times it will be deeply personal and potentially isolating. Either way, I hope that you are able to stumble on some new things or at least enjoy our thoughts. This week's "Sundaytainment" takes a look at two albums I lagged behind the rest of the world in appreciating.

"Loveless" by My Bloody Valentine (1991)
"Daydream Nation" by Sonic Youth (1988)

For the love of Christ, "Daydream Nation" came out MORE THAN 20 YEARS AGO. That's just embarrassing.

Apparently, these two albums are classics. Hugely influential pieces of work that have changed the lives of thousands of music obsessives. "Loveless" was such a masterpiece that My Bloody Valentine's neurotic ringleader went into Axl Rose-ian seclusion while he was trying to compile a followup album. Yet, these two albums were a complete mystery to me just a couple months ago.

Perhaps a semi-mulligan can be applied to My Bloody Valentine. The group is still something of a "cult" favorite and their band name receives two strikes from a) sharing the title of a shitty horror movie and b) resembling the band name of a group I truly cannot stand (My Chemical Romance).

My Bloody Valentine

The same can't be said for Sonic Youth. The band has a great name. They're noisy and have indie credibility. Hell, going back to seventh grade I remember discussing them with an older blonde girl and they still didn't even generate a SPARK of interest. (My favorite bands in those days were Soundgarden, Beck, Sublime and semi-regrettably, Aerosmith).

Despite all the love out there for these two groups and their hallmark albums, I had never heard more than a note from either of them. After one night of scouring Pitchfork Media, there was an endless list of music to try and even with some really great modern stuff, two albums released when hockey wasn't even on my radar were the ones that ended up striking a chord.

The crazy thing is that both sound "fresh" despite their release dates. With "Loveless" the brilliance hits you just about the second the album starts: "Only Shallow" is a noisy, beautiful song that will help you decide quite rapidly if My Bloody Valentine is right for you.

Perhaps my musical palette lacks sophistication, but despite exposure to all kinds of different sounds I'd never heard anything quite like MBV. It's odd: the lyrics are genuinely incomprehensible, yet the sounds are often in my head in an endless loop.

With Sonic Youth, the allure is a little bit different. While "Loveless" roars out the gate like Alex Ovechkin in the open ice, "Teenage Riot" starts things off much slower. (Please be patient with the video, which must have been put together by the same person who edited early-90s episodes of "The Real World")

There's a great mixture of noise and elegance in both of these bands. Perhaps it's my inner ADD-addled child, but music needs to be ever-changing to keep my attention and both bands tend to accomplish that quite nicely.

Naturally, there are many music experts and passionate fans who expelled much ink and column inches expressing what makes these two bands (and albums) so great. There isn't anything my simpleton stance can express that they haven't.

(It is odd, though, that I fell in love with these albums right as these two groups came through Dallas ... in MBV's case during their first tour in ages.)

Ultimately, it's kind of like how NBC tried to pitch re-runs as "new to you": sometimes an album can feel as fresh in 2009 as it did in 1988 (or 91). "Loveless" and "Daydream Nation" do just that.


Anaheim Calling said...

You're mining my childhood on this one. The Creation pressing of Isn't Anything is one of the first records I ever bought as a kid, and it's still a gem of my collection, as both it and the limited edition 7" are in mint condition.

I just wanted to comment on the freshness you noted. I worked as a music journalist in LA for a couple of years, and one of the greatest perspectives I ever got in an interview was from Joe Boyd, who used to run Witchseason and produce Nick Drake. He basically said that songs only sound timeless because their elements were not adopted at their time i.e. they weren't excessively copied in the mainstream and played until the public became sick of the style. That will definitely be true of many of the late 80s college rock bands.

But, for me, '88 being the first year I started listening to music, and having started with college rock, I ABSOLUTELY feel the 'date' of these records. Even Moore's opening reference to Dinosaur Jr's 'Marshall stacks' plays an echo of Little Fury for me, and recalls a time when the band was still trying to find a protege to put over on a Major label.

They're both sublime, of course, and maybe surpass the college rock climate as much as the bands' preceding albums captured it, but if you find the sound remains fresh for you, I suggest you pay their contemporaries a visit. I can't help but hear the dust on the needle, but that's probably because it's my own skin in the grooves.

jamestobrien said...

But, for me, '88 being the first year I started listening to music, and having started with college rock, I ABSOLUTELY feel the 'date' of these records. Even Moore's opening reference to Dinosaur Jr's 'Marshall stacks' plays an echo of Little Fury for me, and recalls a time when the band was still trying to find a protege to put over on a Major label.

Interesting stuff, Arthur. I hope that amid my general lack of knowledge that you enjoyed the post if nothing else.

jamestobrien said...

Anyone else you would recommend in particular, BTW? I'm open minded.

Anaheim Calling said...

I hope I didn't come off as condescending or as a jaded hipster (though I can neither confirm nor deny my status on either). I definitely dig the story of your relationship to the albums, and my story is by no means the norm. If anything, I feel we've bonded, O'Brien. :'( I'm owe you a drink and a geeked-out discussion of cap hits.

It's hard for me to recommend because I'm incredibly biased. I'm of the ridiculous opinion that 87-89 was probably the greatest period in recorded music. Everything from the emergence of Yo-Yo Ma in the Classical community to Public Enemy/De La Soul/N.W.A and the early guest work of A Tribe Called Quest in Hip Hop. Though, I agree that the late 60s give the late 80s a run for their money.

It's also tough to recommend because I'm not sure if your taste runs toward the post-punk/New Wave that dominated College Rock. And I can't really take you UP from these two albums. So, I suggest you move laterally. I'd check out Sister by Sonic Youth, and the Tremolo EP by MBV. Though, for kicks, you should give a listen to Drive It All Over Me from MBV's You Made Me Realise EP. It's their most straightforward track, and for that, I wonder if you might find it doesn't sound as fresh.

jamestobrien said...

@ Arthur: Yeah, it's kind of a shame you weren't around for my whacky BoC trip from April. I'm planning on making a big crazy hockey trip in about a year or two though so not all is lost.

I've heard a good chunk of "Isn't Anything" from MBV and "Goo" from SY and enjoyed both of them in their own right but something about those other two albums hit a chord.

It's kind of hard to place my taste in music. I used to really enjoy awful metal music (and still hold a few guilty pleasure soft spots). Pink Floyd, Type O Negative, The Arcade Fire (Funeral, at least), Beck etc. etc.

Lately it's just been the music that comes from various recommendations: DJ Shadow (Endtroducing), the Avalanches, Hercules and Love Affair (who might be my favorite), Deer Hunter and Sufjan Stevens (Seven Swans). Kind of an odd, if somewhat snooty, bunch I'd say. What I like and dislike doesn't tend to make a ton of sense to be honest.

It's funny: a lot of people have obvious nostalgia for their era of music, except my generation. I think we all agree our high school era music (see: Bizkit, Limp and Park, Linkin) mostly sucked (or at least the stuff that was in heavy rotation).

Anaheim Calling said...

I think, on the nostalgia, it really depends on how you thought of music when you were young. In the late 80s, I wasn't pure hipster or anything. I still own and occasionally listen to my Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Poison, etc. records. And Michael Jackson DID release the album that set the record for most #1 hits in 1987. But I was big on seeking out new music, and trading obscure mixtapes with my sister's friends.

I believe that across the board, from dance to indie to pop to hip hop, the late 80s had it all, or the nucleus of what was to be. I wouldn't call it nostalgia as much as my foolish estimation.

And on those bands you mentioned, Since I Left You by the Avalanches came out when Limp and Linkin were big. I suppose people either owned one or the other, but there are potentially people who are nostalgic for that era for bands like Explosions in the Sky, The Avalanches, Elliott Smith and The Magnetic Fields.

I guess I've always just listened to both. I appreciated what the radio played for me, but I was also that kid who special ordered imports at Tower Records.

But I think that it's good that you're taking recommendations. Despite the fact that the influence of radio has been all but obliterated, a lot of people don't seek out new music. They want it to be spoon-fed to them from some other medium.

I hope I get invited if there's another BoC gathering. Put in the good word with Earl for me.