Made in USA (Rhino)
Sonic Youth

By Bob Bahr

Thurston Moore, guitar guru in Sonic Youth, describes the music of Made in USA as "an odd compromise between New York City avant-gardsters and Hollywood hit men."

Moore and company are the NYC avant-gardsters; the filmmakers responsible for the flop late-l980s film "Made in USA" are the Hollywood hit men who asked Moore to score the film, then edited or neglected much of the music in the final version of the movie.

Sonic Youth — Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley — have long made a convincing case for underground music as art, but the format of a film soundtrack allowed the experimental quartet to abandon all pretense of pop-music song structure and create independent moods, musical figures and textures. They reacted to what they saw in the rough cut of the movie and the results range from big, dumb chunks of guitar riffs to minimalist segments that usually feature distorted or dissonant guitar passages. The influence of avant-garde classical composers, especially Steve Reich and Philip Glass, is evident.

The string-squeaks, feedback and pounding on the lower register of the piano in "Tulip Fire" makes for frightening background music in a film, but questionable listening otherwise. On the other hand, "Secret Girl" is a selection from Sonic Youth's Evol EP and it breathlessly stands up to their other recorded material. "Tuck N Dar," which evidently is the honed version of "Cork Mountain Incident" and "Moustache Riders," sounds like it was influenced by the Cure but dumbed down. The first cut, "Mackin' for Doober," is a manipulated piece of a masterful guitar rage. Several cuts, including "Smoke Blisters 3 & 4," make for semi-challenging ambient music. Think brooding, but lighthearted — like the band Codeine on Prozac.

Several songs sound like they were spruced up a bit before this release. "O.J.'s Glove or What?" begins as a reprise of "Secret Girl," then meanders into dark, minimal guitar tones. Most of the cuts on Made in USA come in under one or two minutes and common themes and elements provide a bare-boned cohesiveness.

Even the most open-minded Sonic Youth fan will probably be shocked by "Pocketful of Sen-Sen." A pot-hazed reverie, "Pocketful" sounds like yer buddy improvising on a Dylan tune on acoustic guitar by the campfire. There is absolutely nothing sinister or raw about it and it boasts an amazingly irony-free tone. It's an isolated occurrence.

The odd noises of many tracks sound like the monster under your bed, the odd bits of melodies sounding like a sickeningly sweet music box playing intermittently in a nightmare. Even when tedious, Sonic Youth is artful, in this critic's opinion. The players, though proud of their lo-fi credentials and ragged technique, are fully capable of executing their ideas.