Post-punk pantheon

By PHOENIX STAFF  |  July 16, 2007

Those tunings are no longer a mystery: just google “Sonic Youth guitar tunings” and you’ll find them. By the same token, there are now dozens of background sources available to anyone who wants to know anything about the 14 songs on the original Daydream Nation album, as well as plenty of information about the 20 bonus tracks included on the new “Deluxe Edition,” which adds 15 live tracks, four covers, and a demo of “Eric’s Trip” to the mix. But even stripped of some of its alluring mystery, Daydream Nation still stands as a pivotal album that marks a crucial point in rock history: in its grooves, the future is wrought from the past. The subversive sounds of the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, the MC-5, the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, the Minutemen, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, and so many others are synthesized, along with ideas borrowed from Glenn Branca, Andy Warhol, William Gibson, and Denis Johnson.

In doing so, Sonic Youth put themselves in a position to lead the growing wave of alternative rock. Three years later, they would take a little known band from Seattle on a tour documented in the film 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Moore would convince that band, Nirvana, to sign with Geffen. And, just like that, it no longer seemed strange that Sonic Youth were a major-label band.
— Matt Ashare

VIDEO: Dinosaur Jr, "Little Fury Things"

Dinosaur Jr., You’re Living All Over Me (SST, 1987)
The fences surrounding the insular musical playground that nurtured nascent punk and hardcore were being trampled by record execs and scenesters eager to join in. An irritable, misanthropic J Mascis was having none of it, and the title of his Dinosaur Jr.’s second album says all this and more: leave me alone. I can’t handle your encroaching reality. Back the fuck off.

He couldn’t make them go away, but he’d do his best to defend his fortress of solitude with the one weapon he had: his guitar. In the process, he emerged as one of the first true post-punk guitar heroes. His comrades, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph, were well enough schooled in hardcore’s muscular attack to hold their own. That gave Mascis the freedom to stretch out in ways no post-punk rocker had ever imagined, bringing the avant-noise of Sonic Youth together with Neil Young’s penchant for layering big, burly, open-chord distortion over arrestingly fragile melodies. (The marriage would be consummated when Young took Sonic Youth on tour just a few years later.)

In his own way, Mascis spoke for an entire marginalized generation by alluding to his scars and not quite articulating his mixed emotions. “I’ll be grazing by your window/Please come pat me on the head/I just want to find out what you’re nice to me for,” he sings in “In a Jar,” the album’s most potent track. “I’ll watch you fall apart, babe you know it/You know I’m young and stuff/Babe don’t blow it.” (Young and stuff!)

The phrase “Well, whatever, nevermind” is never uttered, but it’s implied as Mascis’s wounded voice is swallowed in a rising tide of Crazy Horse volume, leaving a vapor trail of raw feeling. But what Mascis can’t put into the lyric, he expresses beautifully through his guitar, tweaking the tone with his suitcase of effects pedals to impart an array of nuances to tracks like “Little Fury Things,” “Kracked,” “Sludgefest,” and “The Lung.”

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