Sonic Youth Sonic Nurse

[Geffen; 2004]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: experimental rock, noise rock, post-punk, avant-garde
Others: Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, My Bloody Valentine, The Velvet Underground

It's probably best not to approach Sonic Nurse by comparing its merit to previous Sonic Youth efforts. The band have long demonstrated their ability to remain innovative, groundbreaking, and constantly evolving, while simultaneously continuing to maintain their incredibly distinctive Sonic Youth "sound"; and they no longer have any need to prove themselves to be indie rock icons. That status was solidified with Daydream Nation and their DGC debut, Goo. Now more than twenty years into their career, the band seem to have the uncanny ability to consistently and effortlessly release strong records ”” a new Sonic Youth release is always an event.

Sonic Nurse is distinctively late-period Sonic Youth. The raw, abrasive power of their early efforts has been tempered by age and the noticeable addition of Jim O'Rourke as a permanent and official member of the band. The record does seem, however, to be a return to the band's more experimental side, rather than the comparatively "mainstream" sound of their previous effort, Murray Street. Sonic Nurse seems to find the happy medium between the experimental, extended jams of Daydream Nation, and the shorter, more radio-friendly pop song structures of Dirty.

Perhaps the more visible presence of Kim Gordon on Sonic Nurse contributes to the success of the album as well. As many of Sonic Youth's more successful albums feature approximately half the tracks sung by Thurston Moore, and the other half sung by Gordon, the conspicuous lack of Gordon's presence at the forefront of the last few records has left something visibly lacking with regard to the classic Sonic Youth formula. While O'Rourke's official addition on Murray Street helped to both tighten up and soften Sonic Youth's song structure, there existed a palpable lack of something on that record which seemed to leave listeners wanting. With Sonic Nurse, it becomes more than evident that Gordon's voice and energy, so long an integral part of the band, creates a tangible void when missing.

Sonic Nurse neither disappoints nor surpasses expectations. Rather, it provides another strong addition to the Sonic Youth canon. While perhaps this, in indie circles, might be considered blasphemy, I would deign to say that Sonic Nurse, while only the most recent in an incredibly long string of records, might prove to be an ideal introduction to the band for the uninitiated. It encompasses all that has historically proven to be so wonderful about Sonic Youth. The beautiful and unorthodox alternate tunings so long used by the band are utilized to full effect, creating strong, unique melodies on every track. Furthermore, the production seems less dense and muddied here, allowing the rawness and individuality of the instruments to shine through. Steve Shelley's excellent drumming stands out more prominently than on previous efforts, and each note played on Moore and Lee Ranaldo's guitars seems to not only stand out, but remain suspended, lingering perhaps longer than is usually the case.

Again, Sonic Youth have no need to reinvent themselves. Instead, they can focus on refining the already existing strengths that have made them such a staple in the world of "alternative" and indie rock. Sonic Nurse seems to synthesize and gel more cohesively every individual component that has stylistically contributed to the sound which Sonic Youth have so meticulously crafted and refined. By no means signaling the end of Sonic Youth's career, the new record instead shows the band veering ever so slightly back toward the edginess and unpredictability that helped to make their early efforts so original and groundbreaking.

1. Pattern Recognition
2. Unmade Bed
3. Dripping Dream
4. Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream
5. Stones
6. Dude Ranch Nurse
7. New Hampshire
8. Paper Cup Exit
9. I Love You Golden Blue
10. Peace Attack