In Memoriam Sonic Youth: Part III. “Evol”

Sonic Youth - "Evol"
Sonic Youth – “Evol”

Enter Steve Shelley. Classic lineup now in place. Sonic Youth shows, on “Evol,” that they are interested in writing more orthodox melodies, but they are still not interested in sounding any different. That scary quality that I mentioned with “Confusion is Sex” remains on this album, and I think that it is somewhat amplified on this album.

I hate talking about or even mentioning things about music that are so subjective (re: feelings, images, other personal things that can’t be backed up with facts) but I think that is the reason that I started writing about all the Sonic Youth albums in the first place. My experience with this album was on cassette, and I remember I was in 8th grade listening to this tape on my GPX tape deck with really terrible speakers. The player was sitting on my desk and I was ostensibly “doing homework” (I still remember: it was a project for Italian) but what I was really doing was staring at the tape as it went from one side of the cassette to the other. Over and over and over again.

Tom Violence

Opening with “Tom Violence” starts the album on a perfect note. Thurston is coming into his own as a song writer. In my mind this starts the chain of epic Sonic Youth classics that grows to include “Expressway to yr. Skull (or Madonna, Sean and Me, whatever you want to call it), “Schizophrenia,” “Teenage Riot,” “Silver Rocket,” “Dirty Boots,” and on and on. It’s not so much just T-money either, the rest of the band is starting to find their own voices as well. Lee settles into his role as the SY poet laureate with “In the Kingdom #19” with his spoken word over top of what sounds like SY’s first attempt at a film score. The instruments on that track are not just pushed back in the mix, but they seem to have a gate, or a compressor on them that prevents anything from really breaking through the surface. They are clearly background, diegesis to Lee’s non.

“Death to our Friends” brings slack stringed peculiarity back to the fore in a densely layered track that points to Daydream Nation in the way that the lines combine, and the way that the background noise takes shape. The band’s sonic palette is growing and this album finds them toying a lot more with ambience. If I’m not mistaken this was around the time that they scored the film “Made in U.S.A” a poorly received film that was produced in 1987, the year after “Evol” was released. DGC also re-released the soundtrack as a tape, which of course I heard. All that I remember about it, though, is that two of the song titles are “Mackin’ for Doober,” and “Tuck and Dar.” I don’t know why I remember some of the stuff that I do, but I just do.

Death To Our Friends

For all of the ways that “Bad Moon Rising” was creepy, or unnerving, “Evol” is and more. The structures are tighter. Nothing bleeds into anything, there is no attempt to make an entire album side sound like a suite, but that doesn’t mean that the songs don’t sound like they go together. There’s a little bit more light on this album, so to speak.

For all the difficulty that I had getting into “Bad Moon Rising” I think I had a bit more of a hard time getting into “Evol.” At that time I kept comparing it to “Sister,” which I had been listening to a lot more at the same time. I think that I was focusing a little too much on things like the ending of “Madonna, Sean and Me” when the song just descends into a cloud of reverberation and feedback. What happened to the awesome song? Why did it just disappear like that? Is the chorus going to come back? These were the things that I care about around the time when I first heard “Evol.”

Thankfully I’ve grown up and learned to appreciate this album for the important step in the evolution of Sonic Youth that it is. Only 3 years after “Confusion is Sex” and they are lightyears away from that debut. Next in the series is “Sister,” placing us deep into the territory of “classic” Sonic Youth.