Sunday, April 1, 2007
Sonic Youth - Anagrama
Sonic Youth - "Anagrama"
Sonic Youth released SYR 1 in the summer of 1997 with next to no advanced notice. When I found it in the store, I had no idea what to make of it. Sonic Youth was my favorite band, and being into them for the better part of two years, I had almost all of their albums and was eagerly waiting for the follow-up to Washing Machine. Obviously, this couldn't be it. Or was it? I bought it on impulse, having no idea if it was even a Sonic Youth CD or not. The cardboard digipack sleeve listed all the song titles in another language. Were they in French? Was this an import? It wasn't a Geffen product, that was for sure.
I remember this moment and my feelings so clearly because there have been so few like them since then. I can safely say for sure that when the next installment in the SYR series is released, it will be announced several months in advance through various independent media outlets, and will probably leak at least a few weeks before hitting stores. Nothing short of a complete exile from the internet (and the magazine rack at Borders that I'd inevitably turn to in its stead) could ever allow me to experience the feeling of being caught off guard like that again.
Unfortunately, I don't remember anything about the first time that I slipped the CD into my 101-disc changer (still kicking after at least 12 years now), except that I was probably freaked out by the ear-splitting opening moments of "Mieux: De Corrosion" (and still am today). No, I still have no idea what that or any of the other titles translate to. I'm not sure that I really want to know, actually. It's just part of the impenetrable mystery of this record that still fascinates me. But even if the cover art hadn't suggested that things were changing for the band, beginning the record with a nine-minute instrumental (their first "true" instrumental piece since "Death to Our Friends" on Evol) was enough to seal the deal.
"Anagrama" is deceptively simple, so simple that it's almost a wonder that no other band had stumbled upon it before. There are chord changes, but no real hooks or melody, just recurring themes. But I guess that's just what improvisation is, right? Still, there's a kind of reflexive impulse at work in this song that separates it from the cinematic, crescendo-laden compositions of Mogwai, Bardo Pond, GY!BE and every other "epic" band that would follow in the coming years. The natural build-up and rhythm in the track is infectious and joyful, not stoic and bleak by design like so many bands aspire to. Inevitably, this helped further their reputation as a jam band of sorts; I'm just saddened to see that they didn't play it at Bonnaroo last year (or apparently anywhere at all since 1999).
I followed Sonic Youth through the rest of their self-released EPs, including the pure feedback of The Silver Sessions and the total madness that was SYR 4. None would really approach the radical highs of "Anagrama," though each would have its moments (for the record, "Slaapkamers Met Slagroom" from SYR 2 is full of more sample-worthy sounds and funky breaks and beats than anyone has given it credit for). I still love "Candle," "Sugar Kane," "Genetic," and "The Diamond Sea" as much as ever. More recently I've had "I Love You Golden Blue" kicking around in my head for almost three years now. I feel "Anagrama" just as much as those. Maybe even more. And maybe it is just an improvised toss-off that caught me at a vulnerable and impressionable moment. I don't know. I'm older and a bit more cynical than I was ten years ago, but there's a bit of naive hope in me that's rekindled every time I play this.