Stranded In Stereo: My Formative Years: "Washing Machine" by Sonic Youth, 1998

Thursday, May 10, 2007

My Formative Years: "Washing Machine" by Sonic Youth, 1998

This week, Rusty takes a look back at one of the greatest records from one of his all-time favorite bands . . .

The year was 1995, and some of the greatest bands in the upper echelon of indie rock headed south to make some records. The supposed Kings of Lo-Fi, Pavement, headed down to record the epic Wowee Zowee, while Guided By Voices left the basements and four-track recorders of Dayton, Ohio behind them to start the sessions for Under The Bushes Under The Stars (those sessions were ultimately scrapped.) Another band that made the trek to Easley Studios in Nashville was New York's kings of No Wave/Punk/Whatever you want to call them, Sonic Youth. The funny thing about all this is when Matador reissued Wowee Zowee last year, I was telling a friend back home about how some of the greatest records of this year were all tracked at the same place. And when I opened up the booklet that came with the Wowee set, there was an essay, and one of the first sentences mentions how all these bands came down there to record with him. Sadly, in March 2005, the famed studio that also committed to tape the works of Wilco (A.M.,) The White Stripes (White Blood Cells) and the late Jeff Buckley (he was recording the follow-up to Grace at the time of his death.)

But this isn't an essay about what the greatest recording studios of our time and its output, but one of the greatest albums to come out of that era. More like 1994's
Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star than 1988's breakthrough Daydream Nation, Washing Machine comes off as a relaxed effort at times, while also returning to testing the listener with songs that went on at great lengths.

The title track, sung by bassist Kim Gordon, starts out sounding as poppy as the soda pop she's buying. You can picture her shaking her hips to the groove, but then two minutes in it's also like an orchestral movement change. It's an entirely different meditation for the seven minutes that remain. "Junkie's Promise" will always be known as the song that is apparently a tomb to the late Kurt Cobain, while Lee's contribution of "Skip Tracer" still stands as my all-time favorite Sonic Youth song. At least of the one's he sings. The album, on several occassions, threatens to break its calm pace that the album takes over the chorus of its hour duration. For the first half of the album, they seem to keep it in check with a dull roar here or there. Halfway through, after the sweet tale of "Little Trouble Girl," as told by Gordon and other famous Kim who plays bass, Kim Deal, the outro of "No Queen Blues" is filled with clanking wrenches and the controlled distortion they are noted for. "Tracer" does the same thing for its ending, but it's almost just like a synapse in the brain, its brief. But all comes to a finale grander than any other with "The Diamond Sea," the near 20 minute opus that is one of Sonic Youth's most noted songs that they ended every show on the
Washing Machine tour with. The song brings to fruition the classic Sonic Youth sound: Thurston Moore's lament over tranquil guitars which are eventually slayed by the walls and waves of distortion that go throughout the rest of the album, closing the book that is one of their most timeless records.

For me, I did not come across this album until the summer of 1998. After seeing the video for "Sunday" on 120 Minutes, my 14th birthday found me scoring copies of A Thousand Leaves and 1992's Dirty (at that time, I would always swear I got this album second because "100%" was one of the first videos I ever caught on MTV. I do remember seeing that video, but can also remember back to a time when I saw all those damn critters crawling around in the video for Def Leppard's "Animal." I'm shuddering at that thought.) I wanted to have more of their music in my life, and I didn't know where to go next. I acquired a used copy of Daydream Nation at a record store downtown, and ordered Washing Machine for 99 cents or something like that through Columbia House. I remember sitting on the floor of my mom's kitchen as I blared "The Diamond Sea" out of the boombox, floored by a band that could keep a song going on for this long. I'm not even sure that I really liked it back then, I think I did? I liked it, and still like it, because it stands out as what I find to the be the most unique record in the Sonic Youth catalog. It's a record you can have on in the background while having a glass of wine, while it's the same record you blare as you scorch down the highway. It's an album to fall in love to, and it's an album to break up over. It's an album to annoy the parents with (when my parents heard "The Diamond Sea" or one of the more out there recordings from their SYR series, my mom's fiancee came to the conclusion that this band could shit in a can and I would buy it. I had to mull that one over.)

Download: "Skip Tracer" [mp3] /// "Little Trouble Girl" [mp3] /// [Buy Here]

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