Song of the Day: Sonic Youth “Incinerate”
Appearing on their 2006 LP, Rather Ripped, “Incinerate” sees avant-noise rockers, Sonic Youth, taming their wilder impulses and crafting a great indie pop anthem. The track, sung by guitarist Thurston Moore in his typical slacker fashion, streamlines a lot of what is great about Sonic Youth but presents it in a way that won’t scare off those afraid of the group’s more experimental tendencies. In a way, “Incinerate” may be a perfect jumping-on point for those not already familiar with the band, who remains one of the most seminal and important acts of the American underground of the last 40 years.
Sonic Youth first formed in 1977 in New York City. Initially built around the core of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon and Lee Ronaldo, the band went through a revolving line-up of drummers until Steve Shelley joined the band in 1985 and became the group’s permanent drummer. Ronaldo and Moore had both served in Glenn Branca‘s avant-guitar orchestra and had honed their chops. Additionally, Gordon and Moore were dating at the beginning of the band and would soon marry, with the eventual break-up of their marriage in 2011 spelling the end for the long-surviving band.
Sonic Youth built their sound around discordant guitar noise and experimental post-punk inflected songcraft. The group were notorious for playing in strange tunings and physically modifying the circuitry on their guitars to coax new and strange sounds out of their equipment. While the band was always arty and noisy, they were also tuneful, frequently managing to craft great indie-pop gems from the cacophonous din that they could kick-up. Decades of playing together also gave the band an almost ESP-like connection, allowing them to go off in bold and wild improvisational directions, safe in the knowledge that the band would be able to hang together.
The group always found new and exciting ways to change things-up whenever they were at risk of getting stale. The band’s sound evolved significantly over the years and the group went through a number of different periods. For example, the addition of temporary fifth member, producer/ pop artist Jim O’Rourke, for a few years in the mid-2000’s helped the band to revitalize its sound. Indeed, O’Rourke appears on Rather Ripped and had a hand in crafting the more accessible direction that album took.
Sonic Youth were a one of a kind act. While the various members have gone on to solo careers following the band’s split, the group’s ongoing absence remains acutely felt by lovers of experimental music.