When Geffen Records reissued Sonic Youth’s back catalogue in 1995, they left out one particularly important item: the band’s debut EP. Though the record is not typically regarded as essential or one of the band’s best, for discographical purposes, it should have been included as part of this mass reissuing. Geffen has made good 11 years later, however, by giving the group’s debut the proper re-packaging and re-releasing it deserves. As part of a trio of reissues spanning the group’s career, the self-titled disc is the earliest of the pack.
To listen to the EP today, it almost sounds like a completely different group. It’s somewhere between no wave and new wave, atonal but grooving, rhythmic though not necessarily a dance record. Paralleling the abrasive post-punk of bands like A Certain Ratio and Savage Republic, Sonic Youth’s debut is a curious beginning and one that displays brilliance in chrysalis. Though the noisy greatness of Evol and Sister was at least four years away, this release, originally put out on Neutral Records, shows a small inkling of things to come.
Curiously enough, this EP is oddly accessible, containing songs, though not necessarily catchy, might even find some fans in those not easily converted by the group’s early material. “The Burning Spear” is a definite highlight, a bassy, danceable noise-groove with some fine yelping on the part of Thurston Moore. Should a best-of anthology ever to be released, it would make a fine inclusion, if for no other reason than to represent their beginnings. “I Dreamed I Dream,” however, is droning and dirgey, while “She Is Not Alone” is tribal and rhythmic, not unlike present day Liars. The best of the bunch is “I Don’t Want to Push It,” a jangling, manic death funk that stands up to the best of Public Image Limited’s work.
In addition to the original five tracks, this release includes seven live tracks, recorded in a raw fashion, though still listenable, and a bonus studio track, “Where the Red Fern Grows.” Though I’m still hesitant to call this recording essential, it still contains some gems, and is definitely interesting to hear for the sake of getting into SY’s origins. Things definitely got more adventurous as time went on for the band, but even hearing them in their earliest incarnation shows a band with a forward-thinking attitude and a tendency to diverge violently away from the mainstream.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.