A Musical Journey with Nicklas: Part 3 – Sonic Youth – Sonic Death 1984
The way I came across this is a sure sign that it pays off to browse through every last carton of discarded cassettes, lps or even cds I suppose that you find to be for sale. It was at an annual flea-market held by a local charity organisation in 1989 and I had reluctantly agreed to go there with my then girlfriend who was a sucker for picking up all kinds of crap at such events, old cracked vases, incomplete tea sets, reproductions of “classic art” such as Mona Lisa printed on velvet and in the end it all just ended up in the back of her storage room.
I myself stopped at the only stall that seemed even remotely interesting. It was a stall that was overloaded with books and boxes of records and cassettes. I browsed through the junk that made up the bulk of the selection, found the odd passable record which I stuck under my arm. And Then I Found IT … Yes I had heard of it before, Sonic Death, the live cassette documenting the bands early years. I swallowed hard and kept my cool. Paid the girl minding the stall a ridiculously small sum and went to find my girlfriend. I told her I’d be waiting in the parking lot and that she didn’t have to hurry. She didn’t look happy but when she saw the stack of records under my arm she accepted with a sigh. Happily smiling I went out to the parking lot and dug out my walkman. It was with some anticipation I rewound the cassette and pressed play.
I have to admit that I had perhaps expected a more traditional live recording than what Sonic Death is. It fades in with a lengthy minimalist jam with some softly spoken words at long intervals. The song was unfamiliar to me as is only natural with much of the material presented here since much of it originates from the writing and recording of their debut ep/mini lp, which I had at the time not yet acquired. It was quite hypnotising though with the bursts of drums breaking up the slowly grinding bass and percussive guitar melodies. In fact it isn’t even a whole song. It is the ending of an early performance of The Good and the Bad from -81 and this is a very good example of just what Sonic Death is. It is not a Live album by any standards known to the music industry. It’s a completely separate piece of music made up of live excerpts from Sonic Youth’s first two years of playing and writing music together. More like a musical documentary than a live album.
As I said, my girlfriend at the time could browse those flea markets for hours which meant I had enough time on my hands to listen through the cassette twice before it was time to go back home. I found a nice shadowy spot under a tree and laid down in the grass with my hands behind my head and looked up at the clear blue sky with thin fluffy white clouds moving slowly across it and let the music take me away into a dreamy state where in the end nothing mattered except for the quirky odd songs that passed through my head, repeating themselves and complementing themselves in different versions in a fragmented broken down collage which does make for a very nice soundtrack to well basically anything, which is in fact the best way to listen to this. If Daydream Nation was the Dark Side of the Moon for the new generation longing for a new utopia then Sonic Death is the ambient soundtrack for people squatting in abandoned soap factories.
Many of the songs heard here are works in progress, still being worked out live, some closer to the finished versions than others, some that were completely abandoned or became part of other songs. A lot of people I’ve talked to or read reviews of Sonic Death by seem to feel that this is a scary piece of music. I can’t say I agree completely. Instead of eerie I’d opt for the word atmospheric, even meditative. Yea meditative is a better word because it is far too easy to get caught up in the weird musical landscape presenting itself on Sonic Death. Reading for instance is an absolute impossibility. I’ve tried it and I always end up reading the same paragraph over and over because I zoom out, refocusing from the physical to the astral. For me this album works much in the same way as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. It transports me away from reality leaving all the stress and negative energy behind as I re-enter the realm of other people I feel refreshed and sparkling with new energy.
Sadly, on the only version of the album I could find on You Tube the first 7:15 are missing for some reason or other. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMZpcNpOD7U
For complete tracklistings:
Av: Nicklas Ekström i Landskrona