Sonic Youth

SYR 1: Anagramma CD


1. Anagrama
2. Improvisation Ajoutee
3. Tremens
4. Mieux: De Corrosion

CD in a gatefold cardboard jacket. Same tracks on both formats.

While 1995's Washing Machine LP moniker was a thinly-veiled jab at the corporate aesthetic ("no, you cannot turn Sonic Youth into a household appliance brand", the band even considered changing its name to Washing Machine but settled on the album title instead), their major label relationship was indeed a curious buzzpoint of talk on the street after their intake to DGC in 1990. It wouldn't be fair to say that this state of existence propelled the band to reinforce its independent mindset by releasing a series of opaque-looking, French-language-dipping, highbrow-looking releases on their own that focused on the more abstract improv/compositional side of the band; in all truths they had been heavily steeped in self-releasing spillover material prior to that. But after a pressure pot of the early 90's indoctrination into a new operational mode for the band and its visibility, and the forces around it attempting to shape their direction, it seemed like a good time to create a strong show of radical concept.

The Anagrama EP became the first in a series of the SYR label's Perspective Musicales releases seemingly cementing Sonic Youth's connectivity to an increasing public awareness in experimental composers of the 20th century (French or otherwise). The irony was that many of those original avant composers being rediscovered by the indie audience (Partch, Neuhaus, Reich, Messaien) often found themselves on major labels anyway! So, perhaps this reverse approach was a necessary concept/comment given the music biz climate of the 90's. Regardless of how apples and oranges fell in Xenakian probability/theory, it was clear that both Sonic Youth's stature in progressive music, aided by now unlimited taperoll time thanks to a home base studio downtown established after their Lollapalooza stint, gave the band plenty of trailblazing time for their self examination of untraveled avenues. 

"Anagrama" unfolds into nine minutes of delicate textures, starting with thick drone segueing into moments reminiscent of the post-crescendo flutter/comedown of "Marquee Moon's" trail-out; Thurston, Lee and Kim's guitars all circling round each other taking delicate pokes and stabs before drifting into some post-rock rhythmic moves tapered with complementary percussive guidance from Steve Shelley. "Improvisation Ajoutée" reaches further out into dissolve with whirring oscillations, guitars hissing and clanking radiator-style in a short blast format that continues into "Tremens" and a spooked-out landscape of gelatinous notes snaking up slowly. The sparseness of attack is colorful, textures emit and linger, silent spots shine, all flanked by tasteful drumming that provides the thread to all the abstraction. Shelley's approach here is interestingly sideways to any kind of usual rock action, it's tempered, mutant and metronomic simultaneously. The finale track "Mieux: De Corrosion" is a real pedal-palatte showcase. Here, Plutonian guitar wash flanges upwards to buoy a myriad of colorful eruptions of amp-spuzz, chopped up tone blasts and general confusion. Out of the blue, some metallic one-note choogle kicks in and threatens to explode into some Judas Priestly motion, before it all sputters into aural glass showers, clang, and finally a ferocious wave of more flange hiss that crashes down on a dime.

This initial foray into SY's Perspectives Musicales series continued onward with releases featuring other co-conspirators, peaking with the ambitious 2CD Goodbye 20th Century that finally connects the band into full-on interpretations of other composers' pieces (as well as displaying their own new ones). The whole series is not so much an outlet for another "side" of the band, but a run that went hand in hand building new approaches of songcraft onto their own, more overground direction which included Jim O'Rourke (who hopped on during SYR3), adding additional density to A Thousand Leaves and other LPs of his era. Fans of the '86 Spinhead Sessions as well as the recently-exhumed later jams of In/Out/In will take in the sounds of SYR1 with glee.

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