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Sonic Youth's B-Sides Are Worthwhile and Strong


Sonic Youth, the influential avant-garde rock band from New York, has just released a new album called Destroyed Room, a collection of previously unreleased tracks and B-sides from the band's last twelve years.

A 10-minute swirl of sound called "Fire Engine Dream" opens the album. What immediately grabs you on this and other tracks is Sonic Youth's signature bursts of noise. What keeps you listening are the shadings of emotion and feeling that emerge amidst all the fuzz and distortion.

Oftentimes, bands who release collections of B-sides and rarities are just seeking to get rid of musical marginalia. They might as well title their output, "Junk we found lying around the studio and decided to pawn off on our fans."

Thankfully Destroyed Room departs from this regrettable trend. Admittedly there are a few toss-off clunkers here and there. But the vast majority of the tracks are worthwhile and strong. "Queen Anne Chair" shimmers with off-kilter, angular beauty.

Earlier this year, Sonic Youth released the album Rather Ripped. It delightfully blended the band's penchant for experimentation and their quirky, but keenly developed pop and rock sense.

Destroyed Room focuses to a much greater degree on musical experimentation and, in this regard, is a good companion to the more conventional Rather Ripped. On Destroyed Room, you can hear the band play with samples and odd guitar tunings for the pure love of sound.

Sonic Youth has been around for a quarter of a century. The bandmates started out on the fringes of New York City's art and music scene, and have been recording for the music powerhouse Geffen Records for the last 16 years. This move toward the mainstream hasn't dulled their ability to find new ways to express their take on contemporary life and culture, especially urban life. With their noisy, fractured guitar lines, the band captures the anxiety and loneliness of the city. But they appreciate the exuberance, even the sublime pleasure of life. The ringing melodies tell us that. Call it hipster modernism. It's wonderful.

John Brady is a writer living in Santa Monica.

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John Brady