Washing Machine (DGC)

Sonic Youth

By Bob Bahr

If you are not already a Sonic Youth fan, this new release from the New York City noise-guitar band isn't going to sway you. 'Fans will note some growth in the band's sound, but for the most part, Washing Machine is simply another solid addition to the organized cacophony of Sonic Youth's catalog. '

Perversely distorted and oddly tuned guitars rail, strum and scream over Steve Shelly's drumming alternatively banshee-like, almost matter-of-factly spoken, or dreamy like a drugged little girl. And beneath this mayhem, sometimes struggling to the front, are melodies that are one fracture away from being sweet.

Other bands have tried to utilize this contrast between pop melodies and intimidating guitars but Sonic Youth does it convincingly, because they have adhered to a unique vision, one that seems to embrace avant garde classical music or some other artform outside of rock music. '

The easy correlation would be to some brand of edgy, New York visual art, but the band instead chooses to photograph mundane objects and situations for their album designs, as if to imply that their terrible sonic world is merely their perspective on reality. Compared to some of the groups currently calling themselves "underground" and "alternative," Sonic Youth is downright surreal.

Sonic Youth is easily assailable. The music is disturbing and the tone is sinister. The guitars are noisy and chaotic.

But anyone who has cherished a particularly odd blast of feedback from Jimi Hendrix's guitar, or who can appreciate the giddy humor of macabre art and cinema, is more than sufficiently equipped to embrace Washing Machine. Sonic Youth's not-so-big secret is that underneath tales of bad relationships, disgruntled junkies and music world commentaries is nothing less than rock solid values and guileless, child-like honesty.

Despite the dense guitar noise, Sonic Youth manage to avoid tediousness. True, you could take one song from Washing Machine, compare it to a tune three albums back and not find widely disparate sounds. There is a consistency to the band's career, but within it, the group manages to vary the textures and approaches enough to keep things interesting, without dividing albums into rigid segments. Lead vocals are passed around freely, with bassist Kim Gordon providing the most distinctive singing. Her varied approach to the vocal mic is illustrated in two songs: "Panty Lies" and "Little Trouble Girl," aggressive and arty in the former, carousel-innocent in the latter.

Other Washing Machine songs are aggregates of different moods, guitar licks and melodies, with the vocalist suggesting a pop lyric, the guitars subverting that melodic line and the drums and bass rushing the conglomeration to an unseen, art-rock end. The final, nearly 20-minute track titled "The Diamond Sea" incorporates some earlier themes into a wandering, delicious improvisation built on elaborate feedback and simple chords and progressions. One man's bliss is another man's torture and Washing Machine could provide either state for an unwary listener. To those in tune to the language, this album is another fine achievement and an exciting listen.