Daydream Nation (2012 Remastered Version)

Daydream Nation (2012 Remastered Version)

In 1988, Billboard magazine started a new chart called Modern Rock Tracks. Most of the names were familiar, or at least getting there: U2, R.E.M., Sinéad O’Connor, Depeche Mode. At some point, Sonic Youth’s blistering “Teen Age Riot” showed up. It didn’t chart higher than No. 20, but it’s still weird to think of the band in the company of such mega-acts as U2 and R.E.M. By some metrics, landing on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart was about as big as Sonic Youth ever got. Still, even if Sonic Youth never achieved the arena-filling heights of some of its alt-rock peers, Daydream Nation is an album that transformed everyone who heard it. The band had been getting progressively more accessible since 1986’s Evol, but Daydream Nation represented something different: The sound is clearer than previous efforts, and the songs make more sense. Even when the band members are digressing or jamming out, there’s a shape and discipline throughout Daydream Nation—so much so, some tracks feel more like classic rock than free noise (“’Cross the Breeze,” “Total Trash”). The band members prove they could sound brief and nasty (“Silver Rocket”) while also beautiful and abstract, with feedback-heavy guitars that open up like oceans (“The Sprawl”). Mostly, Daydream Nation feels like an experiment: What if a band that had always seemed totally committed to resisting conventions decided, for once, to embrace them instead? Not that this is a highly polished album: The tunings are weird, the songs are still noisy, and it’s not like Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore had decided to learn to sing. But to the extent that rock ’n’ roll was loud, beat-heavy music that captured the passionate rebellion of youth, Daydream Nation was pulling a lot more weight than Depeche Mode (all due respect). And making this a double album wasn’t just Sonic Youth’s way of poking fun of 1970s excess; the band members really did have a lot to say, even if they could come off as circuitous and detached while saying it. Thurston later said he wrote the lyrics for the surging “Teen Age Riot” after imagining an alternate reality in which Dinosaur Jr. cofounder J Mascis became president. On one hand, it was a joke: Mascis, by most accounts, was a guy too shy to be in a band, let alone hold office. But he also had the bravery to bring back big, classic-sounding guitar solos at a time when nothing in underground music could’ve been more uncool. And on Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth goes big, pairing epic American images—presidents, nations, sprawls, riots, trash—with equally epic music. “Does this sound simple?” Kim Gordon asks on “The Sprawl.” “Fuck you! Are you for sale? Does ‘fuck you’ sound simple enough?” In fact, no band had had ever made it sound so complicated.

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