Home Read Classic Album Review: Sonic Youth | Sonic Nurse

Classic Album Review: Sonic Youth | Sonic Nurse

The art-punks present their most structured, restrained & listenable work in years.

This came out in 2004 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


You don’t have to be a brain surgeon — or even a Sonic Nurse, whatever that is — to know Sonic Youth are of two musical minds.

First and foremost, these New York icons are art-punks of the highest order, famed and beloved for their noise-rock epics and avant-garde experimentalism. The lesser-recognized yin to that yang, however, is that they’re also disciplined writers and musicians who imbue their guitar-abuse symphonies with melodies and hooks that elevate them beyond pointless freakouts.

If SY’s left-brain skills have often been overlooked in the past, however, they’re tough to ignore on their 19th full-length Sonic Nurse. Lean, clean and muscular, this hour-long effort is their most structured, restrained, accessible and just plain listenable work in years. The guitars are mostly in tune and in key. The riffs are crisp and hooky, the melodies strong and simple. Arrangements are tight, grooves are deliberately paced, beats are low-impact and dynamics are controlled. Some of the tunes are even downright pretty, with noise deployed judiciously as a tool of complement or contrast.

Photo by Giotas.

If it sounds safer than the Sonic Youth of old, maybe it is — but it’s no less satisfying. The appeal of these 10 cuts lies in their structure — primarily the meticulous, hypnotically interlaced guitars of Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and junior member Jim O’Rourke, who weave richly textured foundations for these pointedly understated cuts. Moore’s Unmade Bed is a shimmery setting of nostalgia and regret; Dripping Dream stretches its ringing melody like a string of pearls over a squall of white noise; Stones and the anti-war Peace Attack have the choppy jangle and loping gait SY perfected more than a decade ago.

For her part, bassist and co-vocalist Kim Gordon weighs in with the chugging punk sneer of Pattern Recognition, and the Nico-like frozen languor of Dude Ranch Nurse and I Love You Golden Blue. Her showcase moment, however, comes on Kim Gordon And The Arthur Doyle Hand Cream, a dissonant, anxious ode to Mariah Carey. Lawyers may have forced them to change the title, but there’s no misunderstanding Gordon when she desperately bleats, “Like Miss Monroe, your head don’t know exactly what your body’s doing,” amid swirling, metallic clouds of whammy-bar mayhem and darkly thumping tom-toms.

What’s equally clear is that unlike Mariah, Sonic Youth’s mind and body are working in concert here — and that these legends have found a way to balance both halves of their musical character. Sonic Nurse, you could say, is just what the doctor ordered.