When you look through a telescope, you can see backwards through time. They say that if you get a telescope with a high enough power, you can see all the way back to the `Big Bang,’ to the moment of the origin of the universe. While that’s an interesting thought, it’s also an intimidating one. What do we expect to see? Does that help us understand any better the world and universe around us or does it just make matters more confusing? This is somewhat what I felt about Sonic Youth. Daydream Nation has been reviewed on this site before, listed as one of the best albums of 1988 in a close run-off with the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, in which it was similarly stated that approaching Sonic Youth’s prolific career and impressive discography was intimidating. For no one is that more true than for me. In 1988, I was immersed in two different sounds, the golden age of hip-hop and the midst of a long stretch of great British music. Sure, I had heard the buzz surrounding the band, but never took it upon myself to experiment. As the years went by, it became harder and harder to find a doorway inside. Plus, every time I `accidentally’ heard them, it just happened to be one of their less `accessible’ tracks, pushing me even further away from the inevitable moment of enlightenment.
We’re taking another look at Daydream Nation, not just to pronounce its brilliance, which is reason enough, but because Universal is giving the landmark album the `Deluxe Edition’ treatment. Our previous glimpse at the album summed up its highlights, importance and sound quite nicely, so I’m going to skip trying to improve upon it. I can only tell you that I was the perfect choice to review this new edition, to take a look at Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation from a different perspective. Why? Because there’s no sensation like hearing a mind-altering band for the first time, and this is the first time I’ve heard it. At SXSW, I was privy to a conversation between two gig poster artists. One was praising the other on his recent Sonic Youth poster. (Take a look at the poster here). The complimenting artist claimed that it exactly captured how he felt listening to Sonic Youth for the first time, and not just some random time, he specifically said it was how he felt listening to them for the first time in 1988, upon the release of Daydream Nation. Well, now you may count me among the initiated. I’ve now had my Sonic Youth bar mitzvah; I’ve received my Little Orphan Annie decoder ring in the mail; I’ve gone through the trial of the `paddling of the swollen ass…with paddles.’ Today, I am a man.
No, I suppose Daydream Nation wasn’t the `birth’ of alternative music, but it was one of its most defining and changing moments. You can look at the timeline of independent / alternative music up until 1988 as a linear path until, as on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, that path reaches Daydream Nation and splits off into various colorful successive routes, affecting everything in its wake. There is a similar analogy in the world of comic books. Alan Moore’s Watchmen wasn’t the first superhero comic ever made, far from it. But, it did forever change how we view, write about and perceive superheroes forever afterward. It’s influential tendrils even reached beyond comics, affecting television, movies, books and almost every other type of multimedia entertainment. Without Watchmen, there wouldn’t have been The Incredibles, Heroes, 52 or any number of like-minded endeavors. Watchmen was perfect from start to finish, an inspiring piece of work that could never be improved upon, only honored, given homage, and imitated. The same is true for Daydream Nation. Without this benchmark album, it’s more than safe to say the landscape of today’s music would look much different.
Daydream Nation was as heralded a masterpiece back in 1988 as it is now, making it an album that was both instantly revolutionary and way before its time. As such, it’s the perfect album to be given the `Deluxe’ treatment. But how to go about it? With the Cure, they tacked on a bunch of nearly unlistenable demos. Depeche Mode added DVD documentaries and a 5.1 mix (both of which would seem out of place and pretentious for SY). Most deluxe reissues include a lot of b-sides and unreleased tracks. I suppose that a lot of these didn’t exist in Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon’s vaults. What they ended up doing was more testament to the band’s genius. Every track is represented once more in a live format, just as they’re about to do for All Tomorrow’s Parties’ `Don’t Look Back’ series. The second disc, along with some interesting covers (the Beatles’ “Within You Without You,” Mudhoney’s “Touch Me I’m Sick,” Neil Young’s “Computer Age” and Captain Beefheart’s “Electricity”), showcases the fact that Sonic Youth is even more of a formidable live band than studio performers. That is, if not proving that they are at least incredibly consistent. I stated earlier that `finding’ Sonic Youth’ is inevitable because there’s just no escaping them and their intense wondrousness. Eventually, their ever-expanding legendary status will catch up to you, no matter how far you run. I tried to escape it to no avail. Sonic Youth ensnared me in their majesty and I’m the better for it, even twenty years after the fact.