Sonic Youth Sonic Youth / The Whitey Album [Ciccone Youth] / Psychic Hearts [Thurston Moore]

[Geffen; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

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

Geffen's decision to reissue Sonic Youth's debut self-titled EP concurrently with Ciccone Youth's The Whitey Album and Thurston Moore's Psychic Hearts was a curious one. None of the original three releases is, in and of itself, a truly monumental recording, and they certainly do not measure up to any of Sonic Youth's albums subsequent to 1987's Sister.  Nonetheless, these 2006 Geffen reissues provide insight into Sonic Youth as a band during three distinct periods.

Sonic Youth marked the 1982 emergence of the band into the indie rock world. Primitive drumming (courtesy of Richard Edson, the musician-turned-actor recognizable to most as the sinister parking garage attendant from Ferris Bueller's Day Off) and dark, jagged shards of guitar were the order of the day on this heavily post-punk-oriented release. Though it differs greatly from the more stylistically distinctive latter-day Sonic Youth albums, Sonic Youth features a guitar sound that is very clearly Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo attempting to both define and refine their embryonic, dissonant sound. Allegedly performed entirely without any of the band's characteristic alternate tunings, the record does contain traces of the unusual guitar effects that would become staples on future Sonic Youth releases. Surprisingly, in spite of Thurston Moore's primal and frequently unrecognizable vocals, Kim Gordon's singing voice on this EP is as dependable as ever. Despite the EP's leanings toward post punk and new wave, Sonic Youth does not contain a single track conventional enough to be considered radio-friendly. The reissue also includes seven live tracks performed at New York's New Pilgrim Theatre.

Although it falls, chronologically, between Sister and 1988's holy-grail-of-indie-rock-records Daydream Nation, Ciccone Youth's The Whitey Album remains something of a Sonic Youth anomaly to this day. Though it is technically a collaborative effort that resulted in something of a joke (Minutemen's Mike Watt is featured on the recording in a limited capacity, as is Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis), The Whitey Album is in essence a Sonic Youth album. For those too young to remember or give a shit, 1988 was a dismal, suck-ass time for popular music. As Ciccone Youth (named, of course, after Madonna's proper surname), the group set out to simultaneously subvert the pop idiom and poke fun at the Top 40 music of the era. The album's two immediately recognizable tracks include a strange karaoke rendition of Robert Palmer's “Addicted to Love,” provocatively sung by a sardonic Kim Gordon, and an oddly unsettling Madonna cover, here titled “Into the Groove(y),” with vocals provided by Moore. Elsewhere, fractured No Wave noise rock over cheesy drum machine beats and tongue-in-cheek, old-school raps provide the filler for the rest of the album (which, though by turns challenging and borderline unlistenable, is at the very least worth being exposed to, if for no other reason than to simply ascertain just how this curiosity compares to the band's other recordings). The Whitey Album is also, at times, an unusually funny release.
1994 showed Sonic Youth on temporary hiatus due to Kim Gordon's pregnancy with her (and Thurston's) daughter, Coco. In the interim, Thurston Moore recorded Psychic Hearts. The album consists of basically one half of Sonic Youth (SY drummer Steve Shelley mans the skins) with additional guitar provided by Tim Foljahn of Half Japanese.  Structurally, Moore's solo outing is quite similar to Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star and Dirty, the two Sonic Youth albums which preceded the recording of Psychic Hearts. And while the Ciccone Youth record poked fun at Top 40 radio dreck, Moore, freed from the constraints of recording with a well-established band, takes the opportunity to commit to tape some of his most pop-inflected recordings to date. Psychic Hearts is a long set of taut, concise pop-punk (albeit with a manifestly Sonic Youth edge) that, while not as memorable as Moore's output with his full-time band, is enjoyable and melodic. The album's highlight is the twenty-minute-plus closing track “Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars,” a beautiful and stunning instrumental that, despite its length, is surprisingly engaging. Moore's solo effort is unfortunately rendered somewhat forgettable due to the fact that it audibly lacks the dynamic that is so patently ubiquitous on his work with Sonic Youth up until that point.

While Geffen are in the process of reissuing comprehensive two-disc editions of the classic Sonic Youth albums (which they began with Dirty and continued with Goo), they are to be commended for reissuing these much sought-after and seldom-heard Sonic Youth projects. A valuable part of any indie rock collection.

Sonic Youth:

1. The Burning Spear
2. I Dreamed I Dream
3. She Is Not Alone
4. I Don't Want To Push It
5. The Good and the Bad
6. Hard Work
7. Where the Red Fern Grows
8. The Burning Spear
9. Cosmopolitan Girl
10. Loud and Soft
1 1. The Burning Spear
2. I Dreamed I Dream
3. She Is Not Alone
4. I Don't Want To Push It
5. The Good and the Bad
6. Hard Work
7. Where the Red Fern Grows
8. The Burning Spear
9. Cosmopolitan Girl
10. Loud and Soft
11. Destroyer
12. She Is Not Alone
13. Where the Red Fern Grows
The Whitey Album:

1. Needle-Gun
2. (Silence)
3. G-Force
4. Platoon II
5. Macbeth
6. Me & Jill/Hendrix Cosby
7. Burnin' Up
8. Hi! Everybody
9. Children of Satan/Third Fig
10. Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu
11. Addicted To Love
12. Moby-Dik
13. March of the Ciccone Robots
14. Making the Nature Scene
15. Tuff Titty Rap
16. Into the Groove(y)
17. Macbeth II (Hidden Track)
Psychic Hearts:

1. Queen Bee and Her Pals
2. Ono Soul
3. Psychic Hearts
4. Pretty Bad
5. Patti Smith Math Scratch
6. Blues From Beyond the Grave
7. See-Through Play/Mate
8. Hang Out
9. Feathers
10. Tranquilizer
11. Staring Statues
12. Cindy (Rotten Tanx)
13. Cherry's Blues
14. Female Cop
15. Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars