Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth (Geffen/UMe)

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Time Out Ratings

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Back in the era of cheap rents, cheaper smack and Ed Koch, Sonic Youth was just another no-wave-derived anonymity roving the downtown landscape like a starving rodent. Who could have predicted that this inconspicuous art-noise combo—rather than, say, fellow travelers Rat at Rat R, the Bag People or Body—would evolve into indie-rock royalty and cultural icons?

The expanded edition of SY’s long-unavailable 1982 debut is a real curio. The original mini-LP’s five tracks flaunt traits that the group would rapidly shed, including sparkling production; clean, distortion-free riffs; and future character actor Richard Edson’s taut, voodoo-funk drumming. While it can’t compare to its devastating successor Confusion Is Sex, the quartet’s maiden outing sounds dry and embryonic, yet enjoyable and somehow contemporary. Many a trendy modern Williamsburger has co-opted the ringing dub-disco of the excellent “Burning Spear” and the pensive PiL-meets-Branca chime of “I Dreamed I Dream.”

The bonus material—a seven-song live set from late ’81, plus one demo—is less mannered, though still developmental. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo’s guitars famously mimic power tools during “She Is Not Alone,” but bassist Kim Gordon’s dim “Cosmopolitan Girl” reveals a passing interest in bouncy postpunk irony. Fortunately, the good overshadows the bad. Reissued concurrently with Moore’s 1995 solo effort, Psychic Hearts, and the band’s Madonna-crazed 1989 joke, The Whitey Album (credited to Ciccone Youth), Sonic Youth beautifully introduces the budding renegades that brought Lower East Side grit to suburban stereos everywhere.—Jordan N. Mamone

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