Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Sonic Youth - Musical Perspectives Series 1 & 2

Sonic Youth
Musical Perspectives Series 1 & 2

Released 1997 on SYR
Reviewed by Dog 3000, 29/08/2004ce

"Perspectives Musicales" EP (SYR 1)

1 Anagrama 9:31
2 Improvisation Ajoutee 2:52
3 Tremens 3:19
4 Mieux: De Corrosion 6:53

"Muzikale Vergezichten" EP (SYR 2)

1 Slaapkamers Met Slagroom 17:39
2 Stil 7:25
3 Herinneringen 3:26

This here be a twofer review of the non-identical twin EP's which introduced Sonic Youth's indie-vanity record label SYR to the world. Beginning with "Goo" (1990) it seemed like the band was chasing some sort of MTV-level "grunge rock" thang in their recordmaking, but finally here in 1997 they found an outlet for the amp & fretboard abuse and kraut-psych junkyard clatter that made us all love them in the first place. In retrospect the crop of 1997 releases[*] marks a significant turning point in the band's career: away from "pop song" structures toward a looser, jammier sound that has probably caused more fan/reviewers than just myself to refer to them lately as "The Grateful Dead of Punk Rock."

The foreign song titles and generally "Artistic" aura of the packaging here is just another example of their famous Sonic Irony, cuz these are more-or-less freeform jams: the organic sturm and drang of a crazy-tuned string section over tribal trance drum beats. The Dead's East Coast rivals The Velvet Underground are certainly the other obvious key influence, but SY's guitarists also seem to have an unhealthy obsession with Terry Kath's "Freeform Guitar" offa that first Chicago Transit Authority album (Third Coast, represent!)

"Anagrama" is Ur-Sonic Youth; amps hum and buzz out of control, 6-string drones and arpeggios bounce around over rim-shot drums through several false build-ups before hi hat licks and overwhelming chords crescendo in a BOOM biffbiff BOOM biffbiff - kachakachaka BOOM!, Steve Shelley comes in with that tribal jazz circular kit rattle that gets the be-tatooed and be-pierced alternatyouth of today swinging in Sonic Radiance Galore!, chickachickachickachicka - badabadabadabada, dingadingadingading . . . . . buzz buzz buzz, click whirrrr! And it comes back down and rises up yet again through the chaotic random monochord of screaming love . . . no hooks or choruses means this is "SONIC ACTION NOW!" and all that grunge rock pop-punk "song" crap can go to hell! Ends with a jammin bongo solo accompanied by percussive string scrapes, EDIT.

PRRRRSSHHwahwahwah . . . PRRRSHwahwahwah . . . SKREEEEEEOUUUUGGGGHHH!!!! "Improvisation Ajoutee" features delay loops of SCUZ squaring off against more guitar ShKrUZzzz produced in real time, over more gentle bongos with cycles of hum and clanking switches ONoffONoffON . . . . again it ends in a rather sudden fade-out EDIT.

"Tremens" is ominousity incarnate, guitars growl and scowl over a martial jazzfunk circular drum pattern, humMMMMMMMM, buzzzZZZZZZZZZZ! Twinkle, growl . . . scowl? Flicker, twicker . . . . twinkle? Bumble bumble, GROAN . . . scrape, shape, drape . . . . are those "jazz chords"? A steady groove beat holds it all together, then . . .

XXXXXXXXXXXX!!!!!!! "Mieux!!!!! De Corrrrosion!" Just like what it sounds, 20th century machines in pure robotic death throes! Machine has been designed to kill machine with the power of PURE SONIC ENERGY!!!! Drums and melodies would only get in the way. ASCII keyboard characters cannot produce the adequate layers of abstraction. It's like Helios Creed on DMT trying to play all of the songs on the first Stooges album at once, in the middle of an electrical storm!

(And then there's volume 2!)

"Slaapkamers" begins with more mortal kombat between guitar amps screaming for their lives and delay pedals that have nothing better to do than recycle your DNA through steel wool filaments, forever. HUMMMMmMmMmMmMmMmMMmmMmmMmmm . . . then wot's this, A RIFF? (In fact when I saw SY in 1998 they actually had this "tune" on their set list, the only piece from any SYR release they've ever done in concert as far as I know.) Or not a "riff" so much as a drum pattern with interlocking harmonic sequences. Martian tunings, flange overdoses, interesting sounds you can make by twiddling the guitar strings above the nut and below the bridge, the drummer sounds like he's using egg-beaters instead of drumsticks, and every now and then that "riff" comes back louder with more flange before being overtaken by humming draanng weevils of brrrruzzzzzzzz . . . BOOM SHACKA-LACKA-BOOM! It's remarkable how much a solid drum beat can make pure noise sound something like "music" . . . . feedback hums rise and fall to the funk, which starts and stops and starts again, faster this time, and with MORE NOISE this time!!!!!! Is your body levitating yet? By concentrating your chi energy on the occipital lobe, one can achieve an astral state. Or just bounce up and down and call it a "mosh pit!" I don't think there's any bass there, that must be THREE electric guitars swirling x-rays through the slipstream of your subconscious while the drummer suffers his very public case of the funk-fits. A lot of the "kraut" bands played stuff like this, but they usually had some chords or at least a key they'd agree on beforehand.

"Stil" because the drum beat has been replaced by clanging bells and wind chimes, which is less propulsive. One of those guitars is playing a melody this time, while the rest are dipped in boiling chrome. Until the melody falls out and the clanking spoons give way to an actual beat whence it starts to sound like the chance meeting of "Metal Machine Music" and the Ohio Players on an operating table. Clearly guitar amplifiers CAN speak, and I believe the language they whisper so deafeningly is Esperanto.

"Herinneringen" is the first track released on SYR to feature vocals -- double-tracked Kim Gordon mumbling and moaning "Blow up, blow up!! UP!! UP!!!! Uh-uh-UPP!!! Guitar . . . ugnnnnh . . . 'tar . . . . blow-up, blow-up . . . . da da da da, UP! ahh . . . . gah . . . la, la, la . . . 'tar, 'tar, 'TAR!!!! GRRRRRR!!!!" (Makes perfect sense to me. Then finally, a plea:) "Please! Believe me!! Believe!!! Please Believe Meeeee!!!" -- EDIT.

As an old fan from the 80's I can't say how much it meant to me to hear THEE avante-vanguard rocknroll band finally throw off the Butch Vignonsense of MTV grungerock success and go further and deeper into the pure "SONIC" territories from whence their most transcendental moments had always come.

"Grunge" was a fad but good old "Noise" is eternal. "Believe me!"

[*] The third volume SYR3 (with titles in Hungarian) also came out in 1997, but has quite a different flavor from these first two EP's -- it was co-credited to Jim O'Rourke who has since officially become "The 5th Beatle." His first appearance on record with the group in 1997 seems another indication that this was an important transitional year for Sonic Youth.

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