Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dreaming in a Crack

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album replay: Sonic Youth, Goo. Released a full year before Nirvana's Nevermind, this sprawling, surefooted major-label debut by these New York No Wavers had a much bigger impact on me than any from the Subpop catalogue. It may be heretical to see these art-punk songs through a pop lens, but for me the fretless four-note motif that anchors "Dirty Boots," or the chromatic surge between the chorus lines of "Kool Thing" ("I don't wanna/I don't think so"), are earworms as hardy as any on a bubblegum pop record, and the gamut of guitar effects--the headstock harmonics, whammy-bar boings, feedback ebbs and swells--sound to me as carefully and catchily placed as the production on classic Motown or Pet Sounds.

Of course, these meticulous touches are employed to create a minor-key blur that's the opposite of conventional "pop," but at its best this record really grooves in a way most hard rock seldom does. With the beatbox sheen of Steve Shelley's drums undergirding the heavy guitar superstructure, much of this record lurches forward like a bobblehead: giant guitar swoops propped up by a nimble, dancing beat.

I will admit that, as with Talking Heads' Naked, there's a big divide for me between this record's sides 1 and 2--I've never really warmed up to the latter's more dissonant gestures, especially as compared to the perfection of the album's first five tunes, which hurtle forward like a fast car, only to crash and burn into the time-stopping noisescape of "Mote." On this revisit, I tried to give the last six tunes a fighting chance, and found a few lifelines: the chiming major-key epiphany that lifts "Cinderella's Big Score," the artful two-guitar weave of "Disappearer." Even so, the first five spurts of Goo are the ones that stick with me. BONUS: I tracked down the odd Kim Gordon/LL Cool J interview that inspired "Kool Thing."

Jimb Fisher I prefer the Millhouse version.
Rob Weinert-Kendt I don't think we ever covered Sonic Youth (though we probably stole from them inadvertently).
Jimb Fisher We definitely played "Dirty Boots" early on. We may have never played it live, but I still have the chords you wrote out.
Rob Weinert-Kendt Wow, really? You must be right. Remember our versions of "Oh My God," "Substitute," and "Radio Free Europe"? Good times.
Jimb Fisher "Queen Bitch," "Jump in the River,"...good times, good times.
Rob Weinert-Kendt But "Jump in the River" actually became a staple of our set! Whereas "Burning Down the House" should probably have stayed in the rehearsal room...
Jimb Fisher Too much funk for us white boys to justifiably attempt.
Rob Weinert-Kendt The only "funk" we created was the smell of that hot little room in Bake's house.
Jason Benjamin totally with you, Rob. Sonic Youth had a way bigger impact on me than anything on Sub Pop, and I owe it all to Goo. And the first impression was accurate: all of their albums are half-great, half-boring

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