Unlike many of these Album Education posts, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation is not the first or the only album for this group, but instead the fifth. With that high bar raised, the album still holds its own. The 1988 punk/indie rock/whatever release is a collection of powerful and LOUD sounds collecting founding members Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley’s articulations on their counter-culture. On Daydream Nation, they present a prolific attempt to capture what is like to be a punk among the punks, and just how many punks there seem to be. Daydream Nation is not necessarily better than the other albums presented in this series, but can serve as a complement of these many youth-themed albums, as it attempts to summarize what it’s like to be inspired by punk art in general.
Teen Age Riot
What I like about this iconic song, arguably the most well-known by the group, is its opening. Bit by bit, SY adds sounds until the song becomes an uncontrollable outburst. Steady strumming is brought in by Gordon, dreamily chanting “sweet desire, we will fall”; then, a pause. The same guitar sound returns with a vengeance. The rest of the song is a steadily melodic, yet at the same time, a wild outburst. I've never heard a more perfect song for moshing than this opening track about teens.
Continuing powerful, bursting noises, the next track is fittingly about a rocket. “Silver Rocket” has more raw punk energy than the first song. It’s overall aggressive, somewhat scratchy, and never stops pounding. You could argue that the “silver rocket burning a hole in your pocket” that Moore sings about is a euphemism for a lot of things, and its ambiguity is fitting. No matter what, a mechanical, silver contraption that is meant for shooting continues the energy of Daydream Nation.
This third track shows something that SY likes to showcase on many tracks of this album: the rants of their band members. On this song, Gordon rants about the hot topic of sexualized commercialism: “I wanted to know the exact dimension of hell/ Does this sound simple? Fuck you, are you for sale?” It may seem irritating now, but in 1988 it probably needed to be said. If the words are too preachy, choose to look at how well the name “The Sprawl” fits the lingering guitar sounds that literally run throughout this marathon track.
‘Cross the Breeze
Certainly the least aggressive of the opening tracks, this one opens with a beachy, elegant vibe. But it’s not for long that these sweet, oceanic guitars stick around. In a major flip of tempo and style, SY returns to their pounding guitars. Even though the new sound doesn’t stick around, its emergence and quick disappearance show how SY likes to freak out their listeners. Their math-rocky tempo changes (not new to Boston listeners) are disquieting acts of rebellion.
For an album that’s been played mostly in garages, the name Eric fits perfectly. And a song about a drug-fueled “trip?” Even better. Psychedelic vibes add some spacey sounds and whammies to this track. But it’s not a departure from the punk rock sounds of the other songs-- it just adds another layer to the album.
This is the point in album listening when every song starts to like the Guitar Hero song selection. In each song, "Total Trash" being no exception, there are some time changes, brought together by a catchy guitar melody. With the help of some punk, anti-establishment lyrics, and some references to teen culture (like feeling like trash) you’ve pinned down the brand of SY.
It’s still 1988 and it’s okay that this is a very 80s track name and format. The song is a love letter for a lost significant other named Joni. Moore calls out to her, singing “tell me Joni…(fill in the blank and repeat 5 times). You can overlook these 80s references if you want. SY really wants you to. They even repeat "it's 1963… it's 1964," forcing you to think about a time that was more rebellious and psychedelic than their own.
"Providence" is very different. It’s one of the shortest tracks in that it's under 5 minutes. It’s also mainly composed of strange radio communications and somber piano playing. Very serious and very sad. The white noise taking you off the back of the track undermines the sad-sacky, artfulness, and takes you back to the great craziness of SY, coming right back in the next song.
If you like any of the time-changey, flat-voiced man bands to come after SY, “Candle” will be your favorite song. They still make all their usual thrash-heavy sounds, but they do it in a different way. I’m not really sure what it is about this song. It’s mysterious to me in a way that makes it seem better than most of the other songs on Daydream Nation.
Think about the objects of choice in this album: candles, silver rockets, and rain-- they all go together. These objects or symbols, however SY appropriates them, turn into some kind of magical emo experience when SY brings them together. They are sad symbols, but they’re also dangerous. If Gordon and Moore we’re stranded on an island, we know what they’d bring.
The sexiest song on this album is “Kissability.” Sexual desire in the hands of SY and Kim Gordon is all teen, weepy, and aggressive. Gordon sings “drive me crazy, make me sick.” It's nothing we haven’t heard before. But with the right sounds, SY adds interest by making crushing sounds of undefined danger.
The Wonder is a part of a three-part trio closing out the album. Considering how many of the songs are primarily angsty, it’s more of the same. Notable phrases are “I’m just walking around, this city is a wonder town.”
"Hyperstation" is part two. It’s more about Moore walking around alone, nightlife, and druggy confessions. They’re really pushing the envelope when they say “I’m a walking lizard.”
Eliminator Jr.Finally, the last track. Every time Kim Gordon sings it’s a relief. She mostly just makes moaning sounds on this song, but that’s also amazing. By "Eliminator Jr," I don’t think there was anything left for SY to add. They played their rumbling, melodic guitars as long as they could. You have to credit them for attempting to end with still some aggression, some moaning. It’s a punk move to go out with a bang.
text: allie miller
visual: sonic youth