A Musical Journey with Nicklas: Part 2 – Sonic Youth – Daydream Nation l.p 1988
It was a rainy day in late October of 1988 and I was about to make a discovery that would make a definite mark on the musical path I would take afterwards. True enough I had already begun to discover the noisier, more experimental aspects of rock, mainly through bands like Pink Floyd and The Velvet Underground (which at the time I only had a cassette side of collected songs by. It did however contain enough of the essentials to invoke a sense of curiousity in me.) This hade lead me to discover bands like The Jesus & Mary Chain, And maybe this should have prepared me for what I was about to experience but no. It had not.
As I’ve previously mentioned my record dealer more or less refused to let me leave his store without purchasing Daydream Nation and trusting his instincts as I had by then learned to do I bought it along with Bug by Dinosaur jr, which was what I had come to buy anyway, Tender Prey by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, I think. It’s not entirely relevant either because once I got back home all I could think about was this double lp that that I had been so strongly recommended.
I had been studying the cover of, inside and out, on the bus back home and before I get to the magical (almost holy) moment when I placed the pick up onto the first record it has to be said that Daydream Nation has the most amazing cover and gatefold. The front and back both feature paintings by Gerhard Richter, the two painting are variations on eachother both entitled Kerze (Candle). Both the front and back are very clean visually. Apart from the front cover having Sonic Youth/Daydream nation across the top quarter and some archival information on the bottom of the back there is nothing but the two paintings. When you open it there is this awesome photograph of the band and in my opinion this picture should be the first thing you see if you look up the word cool in a dictionary.
(note how Steve Shelley looks just like Harry Potter.)
Enough said about the cover now.
The album starts with a beautifully hypnotic slow riff and Kim’s whispering voice, half speaking half singing, not unlike what she had previously done on songs like for instance Shadow of a Doubt, (which of course at the time I had not heard). This goes on for just under a minute and a half before the songs takes off with the same riff but faster and with a lot more energy. The next half minute before the drums lay down the beat is a nice subtle example of the interaction between the two guitars that in so many ways has become the very definition of Sonic Youth for me.
At this point I was just staring at the record as it spun around the turntable completely hypnotized and the one fragmented thought that managed to claw it’s way to the surface through the sheer electric, spine-twisting, mind-bending, burning radio-active, astral state bordering on catatonia, was: “What the BLEEP???” Today as I listen to Teenage Riot it might not have quite the same shocking effect anymore but back then it was as if, I don’t know what really, as if the world stopped turning, much the same way I had felt five years before when I first heard Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother at my cousin’s place. It is a sensation that is hard to describe or explain, sort of the same way it is hard to describe or explain an orgasm.
The way I like to remember this first encounter with the band, that would quickly become a load-bearing pillar in the construct upon which I have then built most of my record collection, I stood there staring at the revolving record for the full length of the first three songs. And what a trio of songs it is. Teenage Riot, Silver Rocket and The Sprawl. Teenage Riot sets the tone and mood for the entire album, which is then carried forward into a noisy climax in Rocket and is broken down into a lengthy “sprawling” instrumental passage at the end of The Sprawl. There is a sort of musical theme that runs through this album which binds the songs together and even today as I am listening through it after almost 25 years it still seems to me that Silver Rocket takes off much like what the title suggests out of the final dying chord from Teenage Riot. And then The Sprawl picks up with yet another riff similar enough to link it musically to the previous two tracks and somewhere along the years the suggestion that at the heart of Daydream Nation actually lies is a concept album.
As the pick up scraped across the final end-grooves of side A I just stood there, jaw hanging eyes wide open, the scattered parts that were still connected to my consciousness desperately trying to figure out what the bleep just happened. It probably took something in the vicinity of five minutes before I actually did flip the record over and the opening riff from side A comes back but without the breathy semi-spoken voice from Kim. This goes on for about 25-30 seconds before it is interrupted by an almost bored repetitive bass that then explodes into ‘Cross the Breeze with its frenzied bass/drum riff that drives the song forward like a runaway train. It’s almost like: “Oh we’ve done that already so let’s take it to the next level.” And then at the end as ‘Cross the Breeze fades into feedback that haunting theme returns once more as if to put the train back on track before Eric’s Trip propel it forward into one of the noisier tracks on the album. Wedged between ‘Cross the Breeze and Total Trash, Eric’s Trip seems to act like an interlude, a side track or perhaps more like a change of direction altogether, paving the way for the burning of bridges and boats that goes down in Total Trash, which is almost like Teenage Riot part 2 only this is where the shit goes down for real in what I can only describe as controlled chaos.
By now as that thematic riff returns once more, like the glue holding this anthemic monster together that it is, I am ecstatic. This is the record I have been waiting for. This record is going to become my own personal soundtrack until time ends. And this is only halfway through the album. It has to be mentioned here that I was listening to this in headphones and as the first l.p progressed I was literally turning the volume up more with each song until the music literally became the only thing present in my nervous system and after Total Trash I was no longer confined within the space/time continuum. You could also say that I was high as the moon on music.
Side C start with a short ambient guitar noise before launching into Hey Joni, the second of Lee’s songs that all sort of act like counterpoints to the riot placing the spotlights on the people that inhabit the nation of daydreams. After that the haunting interlude collage of providence with the noise of burnt out amps, distant piano and Mike Watt leaving a message on Kim and Thurston’s answering machine creating an almost apocalyptic mood, the burnt soil from which the new nation will grow strong and flourish. Therefore it makes perfect sense that when Candle starts it does so with that same thematic riff that runs through the album holding it together. In fact Candle brings the whole album back into focus laying down the foundation for the last curve before the home stretch towards the albums final destination. Rain King relates to Candle the same way silver Rocket does to Teenage Riot. The fade out at the end of Rain King almost gives you a false sense of a completion, had it not been for that nagging feeling that you’re left stranded on a desolate train-station in the middle of nowhere.
That’s when Kim Gordon comes up to you out of nowhere asking you to trust her, telling you that you can go far but also announcing that “it ain’t far.” Then she gives you a kiss that boosts your ego and you are thrown head first onto the wonderous final stretch towards the secret hyperstation, that so resembles the station from which you began your journey into the heart of this utopian nation made up of daydreams, where you can finally begin to live your daydreaming days in a daydream nation. And once you arrive … Kim greats you with an explosion of rock that tells you to pack and take a shit before you go walking in the park and extends an invitation to enter into the Daydream Nation through her to all who care about the dream of a brave new world. To me this is almost prophetic because of the significance the alum would later have, the impact it made on the music scene that was to emerge out of the ashes of this phoenix burning.
What Daydream Nation ended up being is a rock symphony in 4 movements revolving around the New York Underground scene. Intentionally or not it became a Dark Side of the Moon, Pet Sounds or Sgt. Pepper for a new generation of youth trying to make a stand for themselves, to break free of the values and traditions of their parental generation. (Sound familiar somehow?)
It is no wonder that Daydream Nation is often rated as the number one album of 1988 and that is indeed no small feat.1988 was one of those magical years when everything just came together in a sort of musical perfect storm, with the release of Dinosaur jr “Bug”, The Pixies “Surfer Rosa”, The Fields of the Nephilim “The Nephilim”, Talk Talk “Spirit of Eden”, My Bloody Valentine “Isn’t Anything”, Public Enemy “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”, Skin (Swans) “Shame Humility Revenge”, Jane’s Addiction “Nothing’s Shocking” and the list goes on almost endlessly.
Daydream Nation is also regarded as the record that kicked off the indie hype that was to dominate much of the 1990s. In some ways I would even go so far as to say that without this record, bands like The pixies and Nirvana would’ve just ended up as footnotes in the history of rock, much the same way bands like The Sonics and Question Mark & The Mysterians did in the mid to late 1960s. In short, it was the Teenage Riot that ushered in the Nation of Daydreams where J. Mascis was president for life.
To listen to the l.p click: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUVQbyOi8RE
Av: Nicklas Ekström i Landskrona