On Second Thought
Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation

By: Ian Mathers

Posted 05/17/2006 - 07:25:52 AM by raskolnikov:
 Mr. Mathers--kudos to you for having the balls to demonstrate in public that you are an utter fool. You should give up reviewing music and do something more appropriate to your talents, like shouting at passersby in the subway. According to you, derivative schlock like the recent Witch record is more compelling to listen to than one of the greatest records ever made by any band anywhere. According to you, boring crap like the Constantines deserve the attention of listeners more than this album. The trilogy that ends Daydream Nation is one of the band's alltime finest moments, right down to Kim's moaning and sighing. Rain King and Hey Joni are two of Lee Ranaldo's all-time classics, grinding guitar sounds notwithstanding. And your complaints about the guitar playing on this album are the height of idiocy. Sonic Youth created a new template for guitar playing--they are as revolutionary in their field as Einstein's theory of relativity was in his, and all noise bands that come after them work with their influence. Their tunings are an awesome mix of modern dissonance and old-time porch pickin', and to my ears they were the only rock band at the time doing stuff like this. How is it possible to not like the Sprawl, or 'Cross the Breeze? I mean, what is wrong with your hearing? You like Elvis fucking Costello better than this?
Posted 05/17/2006 - 07:29:17 AM by raskolnikov:
 Also, your comment about not knowing which track you are on because they all blend together is quite ignorant. The jams on this record are incredible, and they do not sound like each other in the slightest. Candle does not sound like Silver Rocket which does not sound like Eric's Trip which does not sound like Total Trash. The only clunker on this release is Kim's annoying song Kissability. Otherwise everything else on this album slams--SLAMS, I tell ya.....
Posted 05/17/2006 - 07:49:20 AM by mrameche:
 Although I vehemently disagree with your comments on the guitar tones and the rhythm section, I've always thought Daydream Nation was overrated as well; it's one of my lesser favorites as far as Sonic Youth albums go. I would like to see phenomenally better records like Sister and Washing Machine get the 'deluxe' treatment, but I can understand - Daydream does have some unbelievable songs. But kudos for having the huevos rancheros for criticizing a record as renowned as this. You're certainly swimming against a tidal wave, and I wish you the best.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 08:10:35 AM by septimus:
 A very interesting article. Virginia Woolf theorised that music, as the least referential or discursive of all arts, is entirely subjective and the music we personally respond to is that which gives form to our own emotions; thus the music which correlates with out own subjective emotional consciousness we will like. This I find fascinating, as you have the whole "scene" thing of music becoming more than merely sound but the expression of identity; a formalising of emotion. This is why raskolnikov, no matter how much he/she tells us how great this album is, will have no influence on our own subjective experience of the record; music operates on a pre-verbal, immediate plane, almost below the strata of consciousness. I love "Daydream Nation" and have been listening to it for nearly seven years now, but the fact that you dislike it demonstrates the intense subjectivity of musical appreciation, something you communicated well in the article.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 08:30:51 AM by whiteboysushi:
 the Constantines and Elvis Costello are pretty darn good, rasky.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 08:31:12 AM by whiteboysushi:
 (and so is Daydream Nation)
Posted 05/17/2006 - 09:27:48 AM by unsaunsa:
 Subjective music, yeah yeah yeah. Heard it all before. There is however something intrinsically BETTER about J.S. Bach's Orchestral Suites than something I write here and now in 3 minutes. And no it doesn't have to do with a higher percentage of people liking some stuff more than others, there is musical fact no matter who does or doesn't "like" it. That's why articles like this are useless. Yes, this bloke doesn't 'like' the album, but why? Musically I mean? What does this tell me about the quality of the album? Nothing, it's just this guys impressions about this particular music. Fantastic. Unfortunately this isn't nearly uncommon enough. This piece reminds me of all those shitty reviews that go on quoting lyrics like that can tell me what the album sounds like. If you're talking about music, talk in musical terms. If you can't do that piss off out of music press. If you want to talk about your feelings and impressions go on Oprah.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 09:38:08 AM by raskolnikov:
 Good point, unsaunsa. Mathers even says this review is not about the music in the first sentence of his last paragraph. But most music writers cannot write about music anyway--what they write about instead is usually tangential or impressionistic rather than analytical. At this rag in particular they seem to specialize in hiring writers who don't know much about music as music, preferring to hire windbags who are more concerned with the ability of music to escape its niche and impact popular culture. This piece was obviously written as an attempt to provoke rather than analyze.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 09:39:27 AM by wmdavidson:
 Ian, I agree with everything you said. I adore "Murray Street" and am fond of a few other SY albums but "Daydream Nation" has always seemed hugely overrated to me.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 10:38:18 AM by cwperry:
 I stand behing Daydream Nation's status as the consummate Sonic Youth album, but I suspect that many more people agree with Mr. Mathers than care to admit. I almost blindly announce Daydream as a classic before remembering that in 18 years I still am not sure I've heard side four more than a couple of times.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 10:40:13 AM by cwperry:
 That said (see my comment above), I don't think that all of the secret Daydream detractors feel so for the same reasons as Mr. Mathers. I don't find the playing amateurish and I quite love a majority of the tunes, for example.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 11:11:35 AM by hunky_dory:
 I'm in camp with Ian and wmdavidson. I think the problem is that Daydream Nation is 'seminal,' a term that doesn't connote quality so much as it connotes influence. Anything seminal serves as inspiration for countless other artists, or even for the artist that created the seminal work. I prefer latter-day SY records like Washing Machine, A Thousand Leaves, and Murray Street--they're more consistently engaging to my ears than Daydream Nation (which I agree drags after the first two tracks). And let's not forget that Stylus isn't a scholarly journal, so if you're looking for technical analysis of music, look elsewhere. The reviewers here are laypeople, not musicologists, so of course their reviews will be steeped in impressionism and comparison. When's the last time you recommended a record to friend for any other reason that 'it sounds like Daydream Nation?' If you hate this rag so much, don't waste your time reading. Unbelievable.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 11:56:50 AM by Cacophony:
 so ian doesn't like the album. so fucking what. every time he does one of these articles i am further convinced that he has truly shitty taste in music. why does stylus even bother? if they don't really like daydream nation or any other record that is highly revered, why do they write boring, useless shit like this?
Posted 05/17/2006 - 12:51:39 PM by kingsleyzissou:
 Your kidding, right, Cacophony? Mathers and co. shouldn't bother criticizing "highly revered" albums? You must be kidding. Anyhow, I bought Daydream because you're supposed to, and though I enjoyed it for a few years, the only song I've needed to hear more than once in about the last decade is "Teen Age Riot", a song that I play frequently because it's on a few of my mixed CDs. I hope that doesn't mean I have shitty taste in music.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 01:08:15 PM by bassman08:
 I think I sort of like Dirty better anyway.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 02:25:28 PM by mandwill:
 Well, Ian. I agree with you. I'm a Russian Sonic Youth cadet since 93 and I went through similar shit trying to accept this "classic SY album". Don't get me wrong, gentleman – it’s totally subjective. But there IS hype. Actually I’m really impressed with your definition of this album as “all browns and grays”. I saw gray all the way, listening to this music. Here in Russia it was released (absolutely illegal, of course) on vinyl in 1992 as a single album, not a 2LP! So that’s probably a reason for many Russian fans to like it as their first trip to SY world. I collected a dozen SY vinyl releases and rather listen to “Bad moon rising” rather than “Daydream Nation” or “Sister” which is also very overrated in my opinion. As for me the ultimate SY masterpieces are 1.confusion is sex 2.dirty 3.goo 4.the first album 5.whitey album All “proper” albums (apart from great SYR series and “Demon Lover”) since “…jet set…” are extremely predictable. Maybe “Murray Street“ is OK. The new album is total softy shit. I really liked “providence” though. Even mixed it with King Crimson track of the same title just for fun. The result was nose-bleeding. Tibul, Moscow
Posted 05/17/2006 - 02:28:30 PM by theresafield:
 you're all racists
Posted 05/17/2006 - 03:14:40 PM by thejoe:
 This is one of my favorite albums, though I don't get offended when someone doesn't like it. It's worth noting that that putting it all on one CD probably dulls the impact of it---though I've never heard it on 2xLP.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 03:29:09 PM by Noel_Diddy:
 Um . . . I'm like sorry, but in order to be "cool" you have to like this record. That is all.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 05:29:54 PM by paperdrums:
 i could really give a shit if you like this record, but the "i felt backed in a corner because everyone else liked it and thus used to think the problem was with me - but not anymore!" crap smacks of amateur rock crit. your timely gut reactions to new records, though sometimes a little reactionary, are infinitely less disingenuous than this embarrassing attempt to dissect a "sacred cow" via personal essay or whatever. this all reminds me of pitchfork's "skewering" of pet sounds a couple years ago: it's a pointless - and poorly executed - idea for an article. and the fact that you're SINCERE about this makes it worse, somehow.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 06:12:56 PM by grodinsky:
 yeh, shocking. maybe you can write one about kelly osbourne's awesome cd, a stylus album of the week.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 07:20:16 PM by PopeJohnPaul:
 My goodness! I was starting to think no one else agreed with me about Daydream Nation. I'll take Sister over DN any day. Probably the new Kelly Osborne album as well. At least that would make me laugh, whereas Daydream Nation inspires only apathy in me. Its like the musical equivalent of ER. Only longer.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 07:35:19 PM by IanMathers:
 To be clear, the first line of that last paragraph was originally worded a little differently in a way that I think would clear up some of the things people seem to be confused about. I do take issue with the music here, which I find tepid and uninspiring, and to a lesser degree I take issue with the band. But neither of those makes me mad; the kind of pressure I experienced and continue to experience right here to hide my actual feelings about Daydream Nation moves me beyond my apathy and mild disdain towards the actual album into outright anger. I don't think the change was a bad one, but a couple of you are getting a little hung up on a technicality that, really, doesn't exist.
Posted 05/17/2006 - 10:51:40 PM by idunnowhy:
 daydream nation is definitely a "grower"...but then again, if it hasn't grown on you over the last 15 or 20 years, I guess it isn't going to. But it really does take a lot of listens to appreciate it...I always used to rank it underneath almost every other SY album except Exp. Jet Set, and some of the later but pre-Murray St. ones. Now it's probably in my top 3. But as long as we all appreciate the overall genius of Sonic Youth...
Posted 05/17/2006 - 11:05:12 PM by theresafield:
 "Um . . . I'm like sorry, but in order to be "cool" you have to like this record. That is all." lol, do you keep a blog?
Posted 05/18/2006 - 12:22:52 AM by Parallel_5ths:
 ...wait a second. I'm flashing back to undergrad at U. of Guelph, when an Ian Mathers waxed poetic about this record in an 'intro to experimental music' series for the student paper. I think other entries (photographic memory, don't fail me now) included Godspeed's debut and My Bloody Valentine's Loveless. Will we be taking those classics down a peg next, Mr. Mathers?
Posted 05/18/2006 - 01:42:36 AM by IanMathers:
 Excellent catch, Parallel_5ths, although not one most of our readers could have made. The complete lineup of that particular series was this album, Loveless, Spiderland, Eric's Trip's Love Tara by Eric's Trip, Boces, Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Young Team, the first Godspeed disc, The Three EPs by the Beta Band and Kid A.
But that first installment was written back when I still felt duty bound to defend this album, something I have no problems now admitting was an idiotic thing to do. I direct you to the key part of the piece: "Of all the albums this column will cover, this is one of the least appealing, even to fans of the genre such as myself. On the other hand, there are hordes of fans who swear that it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I guess you had to be there." It's not the only album from that series I have since gone a bit cool towards, although I still like most of them. And given how much I've heard since, I'm more surprised at how much from that time I still love than how much I now don't like.
Posted 05/18/2006 - 05:37:00 AM by boilingboy:
 Applause to Ian for having the stones to question a sacred cow. That said, I've always enjoyed Daydream nation since it came out in '88. I see SY as a precurser to the whole Terrastock scene; as in "neo-psychedelic". When Daydream came out, there was nothing else like it...at least distributed ouside of New York City. "Total Trash" remains my favorite cut...the fade out, alone, is monumental. Daydream Nation deserves it's legendary status, but mostly as the one album where Sonic Youth actually arranged an album from start to finish. If we are to give SY a second look, I'd prefer it to be over Thurston's insufferable hipster arrogance.
Posted 05/18/2006 - 09:50:51 AM by Hone_Heke:
 well it took boiling boy to get me out of bed and post a comment right NOW. I once went to an SY concert 3 or 4 years ago Murray St tour maybe, and to my endless credit I wittily yelled across the throng of black haired teens "MORE THURSTON LESS ME" during a brief 10 second interval of silence while TM adjusted his tuning. No-one understood the sheer brilliance of this comment because none of the audience spoke english, however even the band refused to acknowledge the geek in the audience. There`s nothing greather than embarrassing touring bands who play Japan by reminding them of themselves.
Posted 05/18/2006 - 11:13:10 AM by Parallel_5ths:
 It's been mentioned several times on this log that art is subjective; not exactly news, but something we tend to forget when someone disagrees with our own tastes. Daydream Nation is a classic/seminal/great record largely because it's a significant artistic accomplishment, one that has influenced hundreds of bands since. But this doesn't mean it's going to be universally loved; hell, few artistic accomplishments are. But I'm going to guess that the friends who kept urging Ian to give this record another try did so because they loved it, and wanted to share their enthusiasm with another music fan. It's probably the same reason most people get into music criticism. But you can't make someone 'get' art; you either feel it or don't. That may change over time, but forcing it's not going to help. Anyone who's going to shit on you for not liking a record has their head shoved firmly up the ass of their own musical obsessions. That said, the 'stoning sacred cows' school of music journalism is pretty hateful and pointless. I know that's kind of the point of the 'On Second Thought' pieces, but that doesn't mean it stinks any less. It's makes for petulant, self-important writing; nothing new is added, nothing constructive accomplished, and the great record remains great. So it's not your dislike of Daydream Nation I take exception to, it's the need to set things straight with those of us who do. Anyway, this is 3rd or so of these that pieces I've read, and the one I finally decided to vent on. I think maybe I should just not read them at all...they seem to represent everything I've ever disliked in music critics & fans.
Posted 05/18/2006 - 12:06:39 PM by Cacophony:
 at least this was better than ian's Entertainment! On First Listen. what a joke.
Posted 05/19/2006 - 11:25:12 AM by kingsleyzissou:
 Parallel_5ths, you totally had me until the "hateful and pointless" comment and what followed. On Second Thought is a great feature, perhaps my favourite, because it dares to question the near-universal praise (or condemnation) of certain albums. I'm sure all serious music fans have their own little list of "sacred cows" whose "seminal" status eludes them. Critics (or any fan) daring to question a landmark is essential to good music discourse.
Posted 05/19/2006 - 01:25:30 PM by raskolnikov:
 OK--so sacred cows must be attacked sometimes. But there are certain instances in all the art forms where works of such skill, insight, and composition deservedly stand apart and are acclaimed as masterpieces by artists, critics, and listeners. Critics especially have a responsibility to study and attempt to understand these masterworks, because they help lay the groundwork for aesthetic standards. To reject something out of hand due to the fact that it has received praise is the very antithesis of the function that critical writing is supposed to perform. It isn't funny or clever, just ignorant. This article is idiotic for many reasons, but its willful stupidity is its most offensive aspect. In recent weeks, Mr. Mathers, you have attacked both Sonic Youth and Gang of Four as overrated fogeys, while also writing a column about being moved to tears by the boring, self-consciously precious and maudlin bullshit offered up by Sam Beam and Iron and Wine. Go review books or something, because you do not have the faintest idea of what great music is. The cheesy pseudo-Americana that you find so moving in Sam Beam's schlock can be found by the truckload in today's fiction market, and maybe then you can be inspired to write about how James Joyce was a pedant and a neglectful father and an obscure and overrated novelist. Or you can try a piece on Dostoevsky, and maybe denigrate Brothers Karamazov in favor of some David Foster Wallace book that no one has ever really fully read anyway.
Posted 05/19/2006 - 02:22:22 PM by grandbanks:
 At this point in the argument, I have no stake in what Mr. Mathers asks of us, the enthusiastic fans of this album. I don't care that he wasted time in his life defending it, nor do I care that he felt obligated to tow the party line as a fan of supposedly "difficult" and non-mainstream music. Seems like he is working on his issues and is trying to become a better and more honest consumer/listener/commenter on/of music. Certainly any band could be taken to task for not being as great as we would like them to be. Nothing would be transcendant if there was a formula for exceeding expectations. I have been that guy in the past, the one who tries to transfer my musical loves onto another, and I'm glad I did it. I really thought the pot-smoking reggae and Phish and Dead fans at my college might get some of the same enjoyment out of SY that I did (especially non-Daydream tracks like The Diamond Sea etc.). Not many did, but I didn't feel cheated or let down. It's just part of life. What I do care about here is the seeming lack of effort to meet the band on any of it's terms. There are constant comments lobbed at SY's snobbishness, downtown N.Y. indifference, Thurston's obnoxious self-righteousness and indier-than-thouness. First of all, what does this guy have to prove? He's an admitted fan-boy, goofy in his praise at times of things that aren't very cool. He constantly tries to support young bands and give people a boost, and whether you like his approach or tastes that doesn't seem like a negative approach. So he's the go-to guy for underground hits? So what? Don't read his columns in Arthur or buy his records or follow him at all. He'd be doing it anyway. The guy plays in tiny shit-holes in Western Massachusetts because he likes to, I imagine, not because it increases his street-cred. This is getting way off topic, I apologize, but since we are taking things to task here, I think it is somewhat relevant. Daydream Nation is full of greys and browns. It is a downer of a record. Think about it. Teenage Riot starts the album off with a bang, but it's a set-up for what follows. "It'll take a teenage riot to get me out of bed ..." Yeah, apathetic and perfect. The rest of the album comes back to reality, yanked out of the daydream, so to speak. New York was bleak at the time, so were politics, pop-culture and about everything else. Fuck, this album fits the mood of what hid behind the shiny facade of the late eighties perfectly. Certainly not a mood everyone wants to wallow in, but pretty fucking spot-on. SY had watched the super-exciting hardcore movement devolve into neo-fascism and total scene homogeny, just like the punk movement. What were the kids gonna come up with next? Thurston cared, but perhaps acknowledged not much, at least at the time. It's pretty fitting that the band were watching Blade Runner and reading a lot of Philip K. Dick at the time. Check 'em out, eerily prescient of the way our society and world seem to be heading, and very much in line with the feel of Daydream Nation. It's OK not to like it, but you dislike it for the very things it does so well. What more can we ask of art than that it be infused with feeling and attempts to create a dialogue with the world it exists in. Pop escapism is great, and there is a music for every kind of mood if you look hard enough, but it seems silly to take a group of fans to task for championing what is to me an obvious landmark of its era (for even more reasons than I have laid out here if you look at what was coming down the pike).
Posted 05/19/2006 - 02:38:52 PM by grandbanks:
 Must apologize, somehow missed raskolnikov's last comment, so he stated much more forcefully and adequately some of my sentiments. Since this is the internet, I feel I perhaps am being a little too nice, so I will also chime in on a lot of the crap that gets so much praise on these indie blog/review sites. I'd rather see Sonic Youth play the same chord for five hours than sit through a single Iron and Wine or Decembrists or countless other clever indie tripe. I don't hate indie music, just shit like that. How's that for well-rounded? In particular fuck the Constantines and the Hold Steady. Write a book indeed.
Posted 05/22/2006 - 08:12:18 PM by Garret:
 See, we share what is more or less the exact same opinion about this dull blur of directionless guitar noise. Of course, if I had written this, I would have simply said, "It's boring!" rather than bother to write anything intellegent. Kudos to you for not stooping to that level. Then again, the album does have one non-"Teenage Riot" song that I enjoy... "Eric's Trip," which boasts some truly fantastic lyrics. Also, all of these DN fans commenting are a riot. "How is it possible to not like the Sprawl"... "lol," indeed.
Posted 05/23/2006 - 11:08:19 AM by paperdrums:
 "intelligent?" more like "self-involved." he should have saved this crap for the blogosphere.
Posted 05/26/2006 - 11:24:49 PM by venusinfire:
  Every conversation regarding Sonic Youth is somewhat pretentious. Not many bands have ever attempted to create music as differently and challenging as seriously and well as Sonic Youth has. At least being under the media gun. We've had our DNA's and Teenage Jesus and the jerks but those bands had only so much significance, they were playing with a one trick pony in the same way Branca used his same ideas in his symphonies ; although as founder of the sound Branca's symphonies are difficult almost beyond rock pretentions. This is where Sonic Youth "Daydream Nation" comes in. Branca at this point was developing these raging, cathartic pieces but of course they would be lost but only on the truest of noise freaks and no-wave art damaged fanatics. I don't think Sonic Youth condensed it's formula but used their own voices to produce something to be ten fold the emotion that ever appeared on any Branca release by more mainstream rock conventions (heh but not many on this album). Daydream Nation is just this album. Out of one of the most staggering art/noise/punk movements came the gem that is Daydream Nation - maybe eight or nine years after it's aftermath. No, some people might not appreciate, many people don't see the genius of Andy Warhol either. You either get it, try to get, or you don't because you just don't care or are annoyed by the upper echelons opinion on certain art criteria. As someone writing a supposed critical piece on one of the greatest emotional, artistic, etc etc, albums ever - I'd expect more; so what is it you're trying to prove? That Stylus is a less pretentious popular culture source than Pitchfork Media? To me this album creates the cacophony, the reflection that is life in the city, of the modern era - it's voice with the same urgency and newfangled vision as a few VU albums almost 30 years prior. I have seen nothing else meet those throes in a severe immense time period. This album doesn't just grow on you. If you're living life to the fullest to the point that you see many of lifes darkest points, this album will grow and grow and grow on you. If not, then I'd understand why this album doesn't make so much sense. For us that have felt this amount of distress and frustration in life, I think this album provides the perfect soundtrak. Period.
Posted 10/29/2007 - 04:52:26 PM by andrecymone:
 Daydream Nation sucks. Sonic Youth, "Teen Age Riot" notwithstanding, cannot write a good song to save their lives. Kim Gordon is a useless old windbag. And you're all a bunch of fucking sheep for believing the hype. Noise is fine, bad songs aren't. And you all think you somehow have great taste in music because you like this terrible music. Do me a favor, you pompous, clueless, cogs in the indie machine, go cut yourself and finish what you couldn't finish when you were 14.