Sonic Youth announced a summer tour a few weeks ago and I already bought myself a ticket to the Tulsa show. This has also set me on a Sonic Youth listening spree – for some reason I always want to know a band's every song before I ever see them in concert, so I get the most out of the experience.
But for a band that's been around as long as Sonic Youth, I know I have my work cut out for me. I know them very well in their early years, say, 1985-1990, but haven't heard much of their later output. So beginning with Washing Machine, I plan on listening to and reviewing each Sonic Youth album released from 1995 onward.
Washing Machine surprised me. After hearing the downhill decline starting with the brilliant Goo to the mediocre Dirty (1992) to the horrific Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star (1994), I was beginning to think one of my favorite bands was beginning to lose their magic touch.
But my fear was unfounded – Washing Machine, aside from a few throwaway tracks, is sheer bliss to listen to.
Like previous albums, this is a blend of Sonic Youth's foray into the mainstream with obviously experimental elements, only Washing Machine was to be the last Sonic Youth album that could be considered anywhere near accessible. "Becuz" starts the album off strong, it's bass line repeated measure after measure as Thurston and Ranaldo mess around in the background with their strangely-tuned guitars. Then when the bass line abruptly ends, the noise crescendos in strange harmonies, rising in intensity over anew, simpler bass line that seems to plod on into oblivion, disobeying all laws of harmony.
"Becuz," as well as the rest of the album, showcase Sonic Youth's musical maturity – the band combine so many different elements in their songwriting while making it still make sense. I'm finding it hard to describe exactly how to describe Sonic Youth. As I may have mentioned in another review, Sonic Youth is one of those bands that is simply indescribable. I find it's that way with exceptional music.
Another album highlight is track three, "Saucer-Like." The intro is an absolutely amazing assortment of chromatic note ascensions, after which the song lays back into an ethereal groove. This song has a peculiar quality that makes it sound like you're underwater – in fact, most of Washing Machine's songs sound like this. It's like you're drowning in Sonic Youth's melodic noise.
The title track, "Washing Machine," is another highlight. It's eight minutes of out of this worldliness. If you can get past Kim Gordon singing about "soda pop" and "applesauce" then I think the song is one of the album's best.
Track six, "Little Trouble Girl," is just downright spooky. Pixies fans will love this, as Kim Deal sings along with Kim Gordon here. Something about this song is just so creepy, reminding me of the Bad Moon Rising and EVOL era. It's good to know they still got it!
There are two other highlights I want to touch on before wrapping this up – one is "No Queen Blues," easily one of the band's hardest rocking tracks. The noise breakdown towards the middle is sure to please and is reminiscent of the legendary one in "Silver Rocket" off Daydream Nation.
Finally, the highlight of the album for me, is the almost twenty minute long epic, "The Diamond Sea." The song is melodic and is probably the only song on Washing Machine you could get away with playing on the radio, given you cut a good portion of it. It has beautiful, if sad, lyrics. After an interlude, the lyrics start up again one last time, leading into the ten minute noise-fest until the close of the song, and the album.
After listening to this album many times, I am still continually amazed by it. Washing Machine is perhaps the most underrated Sonic Youth album, no questions asked. Sure, it's not Daydream Nation or Sister, but it is still a manifestation of the same genius. Though by 1995 Sonic Youth had been around for over a decade, they continued defining and redefining their sound, pushing the boundaries of music. With Washing Machine, Sonic Youth cemented their legacy in remaining relevant in a decade most people would not normally associate with them.