gullbuy music review

Sonic Youth


Confusion is Sex + Kill Your Idols EP




Confusion is Sex CD coverSonic Youth is such a great name. It captures the personality of their music so well. Angst, ennui and sexual tension of lost, late adolesencents. Evoking emotion that always feels like teetering on a breakdown. The heartbeat of idle bodies with too much physical and mental energy, forced restraint only building the tension. The desperate feeling of yearning adding a sexiness to their music. Sonic Youth also conjurs up a feeling of toy instruments played with no knowledge of the instrument but a hot-wired, emotional expression of the punished.

In 1982, the critically lauded first release, Sonic Youth EP, it hit the runway and cleared for Sonic Youth to take off into "indie" fame and galactic praise from musicians, listeners and the minor and major press. Now, in the '00s you can be sure that their ascent has yet to hit its plateau phase. The bands influence is now regenerating to a new youth, same as the old youth. The bands time has come. Wether they like it or not, the band are the first "indie-darlings" and the have reached the status of commercially viability.

The second release from Sonic Youth, Confusion is Sex, came out in 1983, one year after their first release, Sonic Youth EP. This album continues the sound from that first EP. The songs are sparse, mysterious and creepy. Early Sonic Youth always leaves me with a feeling of walking in a dark, wet, isolated, urban industrial area. An uneasiness of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Confusion Is Sex was like that when it came to bear. Not quite punk but with a punk attitude. Not new wave by any means! Certainly not novel if you listen to the music of post minilmalist composer Rhys Chatham. Commercial? Forget it! Was Sonic Youth in the wrong place at the wrong time? From the critical praise, nearly twenty recordings over twenty years, Sonic Youth was just building to the cruising altitude of their recent recordings. The track listings on the CD release are wrong and since the graphics are from the early album, have always been wrong. That is so cool and so "indie".

She's In A Bad Mood, Confusions first track, sounds like it could be from the first EP. Guitar work that is clanging and off-kilter and resembles plucking of piano strings. Twangy in a disturbing, off-key, gnarling, then moving into the strumming "Sonic" element that marks the sound of this band to this day. The rolling drums are a marching heart rate bouncing off the soaring guitars. The bass, just a subtle thumping and sliding that is a rythmic and emotional thread that is usually the job of percussions. Thurston Moore's breathy, crying vocals sympathetically explain and narrate the lyrics. Like the instrumental sounds the vocals are not good, they are right!

The second track, Protect me, continues in the strain of the first track. Kim Gordon now takes over the vocals. Her vocals are also breathy but a bored sexiness oozes out of her. Protect Me has a sound from early Pink Floyd's Ummagumma album, one of the most underrated experimental albums of all time. The drumming and bass is Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, the guitar is the rocket that ascends to that sun. Again, it is sexy, yearning, dark, bored, on the edge. This is early Sonic Youth at its best.

The Song Freezer Burn comes in slow like the previous tracks. Abruptly it switches like a bad splice into the infamous cover of The Stooges, I Wanna Be Your Dog. With its "bootleg" sound recorded live from a early Sonic Youth show in Raliegh, North Carolina, it is very different than what the earlier songs sounded like but was also a facet of the Sonic Youth sound. Sludgie and raucous. A complete emotional mess spewing out onto the stage. The same emotions of the original just interpreted by a new generation.

Shaking Hell is like the earlier more subdued material but amped up and louder. Harder drumming and angry vocals, the song deals with heavy subjects that Sonic Youth tackles on a regular basis. It is a mood piece that is delving into twisted emotions of rape, violence, domination and submission. Sweaty and heady, it just ends. We then go into a weird guitar chord burst and then an intro that sounds like it is going to be a cover of Iggy's Five Foot One, but it is The World Looks Red. The most song-like infrastructure to be heard yet, on this recording. That is not to say it is tuneful. Thurston's singing is bad but fitting. The sound is still "sonic" and naive in its approach. Confusion Is Next is a song that continues in the same direction. It makes me realize where Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 got their sound. Poppy architecture that is twisted all around. There is no perspective or sight line moving in and out of emotions and themes. like a Dr. Calagari funhouse ride.

Making The Nature Scene I can do without. It is more filler than substance. But the last track on Confusion, Lee Is Free is a quiet and intricate little piece that is similar to Japanese music. The composition is ecclectic and warped but is still the sound that permeates this record. It is a nice finale to the preceding track and takes us out of the turbulence and eases us into the landing.

Then we are off and into the Kill Your Idols EP, also contained on this CD. It is a proper addition as the songs are continuation of Confusion's tracks. You can hear them honing in on the sounds to become the recognizable thread in Sonic Youth's body of work and more mature releases to come. A little more raw than the Confusion tracks but still fitting. You also get a visceral live recording of Shaking Hell from the Kill Your Idols EP.

I never liked Sonic Youth back when these albums were released. They were too ahead of their time. Critics and fans stuck with them and after countless thefts of their layered, feedback sound, Sonic Youth's music on Confusion/Kill Your Idols is just as vital today as it was then. The ear has been trained over the years and it seems to be less discordant, brash or minimal as it did in 1982. It is soundtrack music for the disenfranchised.

---James Kraus, May 24, 2005