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XXXIII: 1992 Sonic Youth - Dirty

Sonic Youth - Dirty

This was my first full Sonic Youth album. Someone on ILM said that your favourite SY release usually is the first one you got exposed to. That is totally on the money concerning me. I knew them before though and had listened to some of their songs during my studies around 1987. I remember some improvised sounding distorted guitar music which had made them a kind of mythic band for me in 1992 when I was seriously getting into indie rock. After Dirty I slowly purchased most of their back catalogue and all new records coming out except NYC Ghosts & Flowers. I even got the four experimental SYR releases I never listen to. Nothing ever hit me as hard as Dirty.

Dirty was produced by Butch Vig who was the man responsible for a lot of the grunge sound when it got big. Among others he produced Nirvana's Nevermind, the Smashing Pumpkins Gish, many Gumball and Die Kreuzen records. Dirty is a rather untypical album for SY as many songs are quite short and to the point (Goo is similar but more pop). There are no songs in the Grateful Dead jamming vein which go on and on and often lose me after a while like on most other SY releases. Dirty is pretty hard rocking sophisticated guitar rock full of restrained power.

The album starts with 100% where SY make a bed of noisy guitars into which Thurston Moore's straight cool voice fits perfectly. The mood of the whole album is condensed into two and a half minutes of fierce ravage.

Swimsuit Issue starts with a stubborn, abrasive primitive "riff" underlined by the cymbals and almost halts in the last minute when they put on the brakes in full speed. Listen to Kim Gordon whose timbre changes totally from riot girrl delivery to pussy cat purr at the end when she says in her most dreamiest voice

I am swimming.

On Theresa's Sound-world they weave a thick carpet of guitar noise after a slow harmonic start. Accelarating, decelarating back and accelerating again. And then finishing in calm beauty. How I love these silent-loud dynamics. I really like how varied the tracks are in themselves.

Drunken Butterfly is the perfect example of holding back the energy when Kim sings smoothly and plays this earth-shattering bass line. The eruption in noise is inevitable.

Shoot is a slow song building up with Kim singing in her sexy but determined voice. It only shoots off for a minute or so in the middle. The tension is never completely relieved.

Wish Fulfillment with Lee Ranaldo singing starts otherworldly and turns into a guitar wall fest with a weird end full of electronic effects. The tempo and volume changes make this album so dear to me.

Sugar Kane has got a great floating riff. The drums beat hard and the guitar effects are awesome. After four minutes it slacks off only to get back to the hard core. It's the longest song with almost 6 minutes but it never gets boring.

Orange Rolls, Angel's Spit is a typical Kim Gordon freak-out track where at times she sounds like a pig been slaughtered but there are these lala-lala-lala-lala background vocals which counterbalance her shrieking delivery perfectly. The guitars are running havoc in the beginning but everything is under control.

Youth against Fascism is accelerating slowly. The pounding bass and the squeaky guitar sounds are so huge. Tight as hell. Thurston kicks us in the ass.

Nic Fit is a one minute speed punk wonder. Thurston summarises this song fittingly when barking

Sonic youth

The epic On the Strip sung by Kim Gordon follows. Sexy would be an understating epithet for her voice here. If God was a woman interested in propagation she would sound like this.

On the seemingly sweet Chapel Hill Thurston sings

We could be wrong but that’s allright, We’ll rise again

and it morphs into a 200 miles per hour guitar chaos.

JC is an atmospheric, textured track where Kim speaks the lyrics. Post-rock in a The Gift way or something like that.

On Purr SY have the psychobilly blues. Back to the roots. Thurston admits

I learned it all from you girl I got it all from you How to howl the moon yeah How to scratch your door I do it every day Come back again tomorrow You chase it all away

The album ends with the ballad Crème Brulée. Kim says these hilarious lines

Last night I dreamed I kissed Neil Young If I was a boy I guess it would be fun

and finishes with

I said it before and I'll say it again I'm so happy We're just friends

Someone on this site interpreted the song nicely:

I have a friend with whom I have listened to Sonic Youth for years, and this song has been theme of conversation a lot of times. We've talked about that disappointing moments in life when one of us had a crush on some girl, and when things were looking good... she came out with that line: "I'm so happy, we're just friends".

From those years on, we referred to that situation as "She did a Creme Brulee to you!". Argh!

Dirty is Sonic Youth's White Album. It is all there. They had reached their creative peak.

No mp3 yet, everything is great. Tell me in the comments what you'd like me to upload if you are still with me.

Here is the overview of the series 40 years, 40 albums of which part XXXIII was this post.


Still with you, Alex. :-)

As for an mp3-upload: tough choice... "Purr" is my 'kneejerk' response.

Your favorite Sonic Youth album being the first you hear is so true! In my case: Sister. It's one of those rare albums of which I still know exactly where I was and who I was with when I first heard it (I got it from the library). The intro to "Schizophrenia" still gives me the chills... At 15 years of age, this was the weirdest, most intense album I'd ever heard.

I listened to Dirty quite extensively for a few weeks after it came out and somehow never played it since. I got bored with it, strange as that may seem. I downloaded it a couple of months ago after someone claimed it was their best. While that's not the case (according to me), it is a very good album and the reaquaintance was a very pleasant one. And I was wrong, so wrong, about it being boring.

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The best is always subjective, of course. Sister is the only album of theirs I have hardly ever listened to. Maybe i should. Dirty was first and that's why it is here. Here is Purr. Great choice, of course. It reminds me a little of the Gun Club. Not too characteristic of this album. Which is extremely varied. Love the title of that song. Cat sounds are my favourite animal sounds.

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nice write-up alex.

the 1st one i heard was "goo' but i disliked it. tried others every so often and still didn't like them. it wasn't until 'murray street' tnat i actually enjoued almost all of it. great guitar interplay, etc. still can't stand the kim g. songs much, though.

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i am glad you liked my scribble

could it be they didn't impress you much when you heard them first as you were accustomed to post-punk, phil? i mean in a way they continue the line of experimentalish dark rock which was paved by bands like pere ubu, suicide, the cramps etc. the novelty factor must have been less striking for you. goo is probably their easiest album as it is full of tunes. it's quite nice for a sonic youth album. maybe too nice.

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i'm not sure what it is about them that doesn't grab me. maybe it's the tone of the guitars - i prefer the brittle, steely sounds of bands like Television above the fuzzed up, amorphous sound SY utilise. still and all i do ADMIRE them a lot even if that never converts to a love of the band.

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MOJO recently did "The Top 10 Sonic Youth Albums", and I think 'Dirty' was about #6. 'Sister' won. 'Goo' was 3rd, although it's my favourite because it's the most accessible. I guess I'm a sucker for catchy numbers. I can play it through my headphones and sing along mindlessly, whereas some other Sonic Youth albums require you to sit down, listen and concentrate to really grasp the genius behind it. Having said that, I think all the SY records are incredible.

Anyway, you should upload Creme Brulee, because it will make people laugh. It always makes me laugh.

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last updated: 12/8/21, 5:41 PM
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