In Memoriam Sonic Youth XII: “Murray Street”

“Murray Street,” to me, feels like a resurrection of sorts for Sonic Youth. This undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact that after several years away from the band, completely missing out on “A Thousand Leaves” and “NYC Ghosts & Flowers,” I got this album from my brother for my birthday and started listening to them again in earnest. It was like starting to talk to an old friend again after having a huge fight.

And so many of the elements of Sonic Youth’s songwriting that were missing from the (what I thought at the time were) way-too-high concept of the previous two albums, return here on “Murray Street” in full force. It’s a return to structure, or as much song-structure as Sonic Youth could ever return to; there’s more of a focus on filling the space with guitar driven harmony and melody; more of a focus on all of the band’s strengths, basically. One could Listen to “Washing Machine,” skip over the next two albums and go straight to “Murray Street” and not really have missed much in the way of an evolution. The two albums in between have their strengths and their weakness, of course, but aside from that they just sound as though the band had veered off course for a bit. Again, the insertion of the SYR recordings probably have a lot to do with that.

 


We’re picking up right where we left off now. In that time away the band had added Jim O’Rourke to the official lineup, which brought in some more complex compositional forethought to the writing process, and if I’m remembering my Sonic Youth trivia correctly this was something that drove Thurston a little crazy because it slowed the whole writing and recording process down. Anyway, that’s something to consider I guess, but it really has nothing to do with my experience of the album.

I just remember that when I got this album it was during my first year away at college, it had come out only a few months before I started. At the same time that I was re-acquainting myself with Sonic Youth I was discovering an entire world of music that I had never even heard of before. This was around the time that I discovered the music of Charles Ives, John Cage, Stravinsky and so many others that are staples in my regular listening now. Everything was starting to make a little more sense to me now. I was starting to be able to put together where all of these ideas and sounds were coming from. At the time I didn’t realize just how many gaps existed in my knowledge of music in general.

Listening to “Murray Street” again now I can clearly hear the beginnings of ideas that turn up in slightly varied form on “Rather Ripped,” which would come out 4 years later. The one thing that jumps out at me right now is the tuning of “Rain on Tin” sounds to be the same as the tuning used on “Pink Steam.” There are a lot of similarities in those two songs.

The album is definitely more subdued than material found on “Experimental, Jet Set, Trash & No Star,” and there certainly isn’t anything as cacophonous (nor as epic and brilliant) as “The Diamond Sea.” It’s a new phase of Sonic Youth. They seem less focused on creating as much noise as possible, and more interested in carving out interesting and dare I say it catchy melodies.

I still enjoy “Murray Street,” and when I listen to it now all sorts of memories of my first years away at college come flooding back, which was a good time for me. For maybe the first time in a decades I felt as though I was succeeding in something, and feeling comfortable doing it. It’s similar to how I think I was feeling when I first started listening to Sonic Youth. I guess that at this point it was good to welcome them back. And now that we were becoming re-acquainted I was learning to listen to music in an entirely new way. Neither one of us needed non-stop action, aggression and noise to hold our interest any more. And this is the reason that I started writing these entries, is because that connection of growing up with the band holds true all the way through to the end.

Up next I continue through to the final phase of the band with their final 3 proper releases.

Discuss