While Sonic Youth’s sound is based greatly on the interplay between two guitarists, the fifth release in their SYR series is nearly guitar-free. What’s not missing, however, is the superb sense of freedom and mystery that permeates every release linked (even tenuously) to their fine name. Sonic Youth have always been a solidly New York band. This release, the first SYR release not featuring Sonic Youth, showcases three talented New Yorkers from different walks of life: SY bassist Kim Gordon, illbient DJ Olive (of We and other outfits) and experimental drummer/“no wave” legend Ikue Mori. The resulting release shows the three blending their own styles into a sound that is thoroughly unique, one which takes all three in a new direction while retaining the experimental nature and high quality of the work they’ve each done previously.
The CD, with song titles in Japanese (each SYR release is in a different language), opens with the sounds of nature, leading quickly into clouds of static, melodic windchimes and an array of other sounds. This track, while not all that representative of the rest of the CD, signifies the musical mindset behind the trio’s work, one of crossbreeding and channel-switching.
The music has a postmodern, “sounds for the ADD generation” feel, brought on mostly through the constant use of quick flurries of percussion. Every track is built on a rhythmic base of bizarre percussive sounds. Knowing Ikue Mori’s history as a drummer who in most recent years has been utilizing her own batch of personalized drum machines, I’d assume this is her contribution. Yet seeing that there are no obvious elements of electronic music, I figure DJ Olive had a place in it too. Whoever’s behind it, this element gives the music a constant air of uneasiness and danger. Everything sounds unstable and ominous, like you never know what’s behind, above or around you.
Kim Gordon lends the tracks the sort of weird nursey rhymes that she sings on the most dream-like Sonic Youth songs (think “Contre Le Sexisme” over “Orange Rolls, Angel’s Spit”). Sonic Youth fans know that her voice can be as expressive and poetic as the other two singing members of the band; here it’s used effectively throughout. She continually adds a dose of abstract literary art to complement the musical mood of mystery.
Each installment in the SYR series, and anything associated with Sonic Youth, is anxiously awaited by anyone interested in the more experimental side of rock. This is as compelling and cutting-edge as any of the other SYR releases, yet this is not rock music, though that’s not a bad thing. While rock takes rage, intensity and other feelings and pushes them forward like a bullet train, this music takes those same feelings, spreads them out like a cloud, and then keeps pulling the cloud in and out of view; everything is broad and enveloping yet franticly mixed-up. The notes reach around and grab you from all sides, though, and that’s an important quality to have in these remote-control days.