It’s been 30 years since the experimental rock band Sonic Youth launched “Daydream Nation.” This is the band’s fifth album, which is considered to be both their best album and one of the most influential of the 1980s. This would be their final studio album for an independent record before switching to a major label. The band is also hosting a series of events titled “30 Years of Daydream Nation” to celebrate the anniversary, which will contain archive films of the band during that time period. However, the event is limited to certain cities around the U.S. and nowhere near North Carolina.
What made Sonic Youth appealing for their time was the combination of their musical influences. There are elements of avant-garde music such as Glenn Branca as well as punk rock groups like the Ramones. Listening to earlier albums such as “Sister” or “EVOL” show that combination well, and by the time you get to “Daydream Nation,” they manage to perfect that sound.
Opening track “Teen Age Riot” shows this confidence with an extremely catchy guitar riff and brash drumming. It is a seven-minute track that is the first of many to feature lengthy instrumentation.
Then there is “Silver Rocket,” where it starts as a standard punk rock song but then melts down into a barrage of high-pitched noises before slowly progressing back at the end. For first-time listeners, this is unsettling because of how hard it is to comprehend the chaos created.
I actually had a hard time understanding this concept when I first listened to the album. At the time, I was really new to Sonic Youth and wasn’t knowledgeable about their experimental style, so I can understand where some of you may be coming from when approaching this album.
What made me finally click with this album was the fact that the music is balanced by having catchy riffs and drum beats along with reckless jamming. Take “Total Trash” for example, it has a great riff and chorus but also has a meltdown where the band literally goes on a rampage in a well-synchronized manner before slowly going back to the chorus. It is a weird listening experience, but in it, you can see what they are trying to do.
From that point on, I began to understand how experimental music worked. You don’t have to be restricted to standard pop song structure, instead, you can take that structure and add things that you never thought could work. In Sonic Youth’s case, it worked.
You can trace Sonic Youth’s influence to bands such as Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine, both of whom took massive inspiration from Sonic Youth’s odd guitar tunings. Nirvana particularly took inspiration from their primal and fast-paced tempo whereas My Bloody Valentine took guidance from their wall of distorted guitars.
This influence even stretches as far as the guitars they used. Because of Sonic Youth, the music world began to see bands using Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, two guitar models that were not popular when they were first introduced until, of course, the 20 years afterward that saw a rise in their popularity thanks to Sonic Youth. In fact, I want to buy a Jazzmaster because of Thurston Moore.
Overall, “Daydream Nation” was a noisy yet beautiful masterpiece that was instrumental to the evolution of alternative rock into the 1990s. It’s really hard to imagine what would have happened if this album never existed. Would alternative rock be what it eventually became? Would there ever be an influx of guitarists buying Jazzmasters and Jaguars? There are plenty of questions to ask about what would have happened if this album or the band had never existed.
If you’re new to Sonic Youth or experimental music in general, pick this album up because it’s not totally experimental which in turn can be accessible for new listeners. Do take some time to at least understand the goal the band was making with their album.
Track Picks: “Teen Age Riot,” “Silver Rocket,” “Cross the Breeze,” “Total Trash,” “Hey Joni,” “Candle,” “Rain King,” and “Trilogy”
Label: SST Records
Listen to “Daydream Nation” on Spotify: