Various Artists

This is the fifth release on Sonic Youth's self-released label, but it also is one of the few on SYR that is not exclusively by the band itself. A collaboration between Youth bassist/vocalist Kim Gordon, “downtown turntable artiste” DJ Olive, and drum programmer Ikue Mori (former drummer for the No-Wave “supergroup” DNA), this is a logical followup to SYR 4, Goodbye 20th Century, which was Sonic Youth's tribute to twentieth-century composers, including LaMonte Young, Cornelius Cardew, and other avant noisemakers. This release continues the pattern of uneasy listening that has characterized the whole SYR series to date. Yes, it's noisy. Yes, it's noncommercial. Yes, you have probably heard something like it before if you have followed the musical paths of Gordon, Mori, Olive, or any other like-minded NYC downtown scene/Knitting Factory noncareerists during the past fifteen years or so. It's definitely not your typical Sonic Youth record, but neither is it a predictable recitation of standard avant-noise clichés.

Gordon has a very recognizable voice; it almost always sounds somewhere between a sneer and a yell. She uses this patented yelp to great effect on the moody pieces found here. For once her voice is not buried under layers of guitar work, which frequently happens on Sonic Youth recordings. Her tone and delivery are always arresting, even if she's just chanting nonsense or fragments of a grocery list. It's not what she says but how she sounds while she's saying it that makes Gordon such a riveting vocal performer. She also returns to the guitar here (her first instrument before switching to bass when she joined Sonic Youth), playing in a percussive, rumbling style that nicely complements Olive's turntable scratches and Mori's drum programming.

There is not a lot of melodic content on this recording, but not everything is harsh industrial soundscape where the listener has to endure ugly sound, because it is somehow enriching and character building to do so. There is a lot of noise on this recording, most of which is interesting rather than irritating. It is more of a sound-effects record, if you will, than a serious exercise in boring sonic experimentation. (Watch out when musicians start using phrases like musical experiment. That's always the kiss of death.) This record is playful and unashamed of its novelty-styled bleeps and blips. Noise can be fun. It doesn't always have to repel and deafen. SYR 5 proves that nicely.

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Ross Johnson