Good news, noise fans: Sonic Youth has finally released the album you've been waiting for, the summation of their career, the milestone that will forever mark the furthermost reach of their music: The Silver Session (For Jason Knuth).
Gone are the pesky songs that for so long have hemmed in their best sounds. Gone are the trademark vocals and trenchant lyrics that take up valuable space. Ditto for the catchy riffs and hooks that only distract from their true glory. Yup, The Silver Session is noise and only noise. Sonic Youth cared enough about making a pure statement that they didn't even play the guitars themselves -- in fact, no one did!
For this album, SY turned all the amps in their studio past ten, laid every available guitar and bass against them, and let everything wail. Then, they added an old, distorted beat box, to give the cacophony a pulse, of sorts. They later processed, mixed, tweaked and otherwise carefully sculpted this pure sound. Always the closet pop fans, the album's eight tracks average four minutes each. But then SY's idea of pop has always been a bit skewed.
I have a friend who blames The Silver Session for destroying his stereo. It's SY's version of Lou Reed's infamous Metal Machine Music. And I don't mean that as a metaphor -- that it's a big fuck-you to their fans, or whatever. I mean that parts of The Silver Session sound exactly like Metal Machine Music. Which isn't to say it's the ultimate lease-breaker (see the Boredoms), just a static drone that's almost completely content-free.
This album is nothing like Sonic Youth's previous instrumental EPs, with the exception of some of the more abstract and droney sections of SYR 3. Where those EPs might conjure visions of color-field paintings or abstract-expressionist sprawl, I can't help thinking of The Silver Session as the sonic equivalent of the famous silver wallpaper Andy Warhol used for The Factory.
The opening track, "Silver Panties," is reminiscent of "Freezerburn," off 1983's Confusion Is Sex, a song most notable for being the intro to their cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog." "Silver Panties" is a warm, pulsing drone that effectively sets the tone for what follows by going nowhere. The next two tracks are my favorites. "Silver Breeze" is 90 seconds of whispered, hissing static over said drone. "Silver Flower" is simply a marvel. It unfolds slowly, adding layer upon layer of noise, tones that scream like your speakers are being sawed in half, until it gains an overpowering momentum similar to the best free jazz. Austere, caustic beauty. "Silver Son" begins with the fragments of a riff that, for a moment, recalls My Bloody Valentine, before dissolving into the omnipresent hum. It's all pleasant enough, if sometimes a bit dull. The distorted guitar-moans often sound eerily like recordings of whale songs.
You also should know that this is noise for a good cause. The album is dedicated to fan Jason Knuth, who committed suicide in February of this year. Knuth was program director for the University of San Francisco radio station, KUSF. Even though they didn't know Knuth, SY were so touched by the Internet reaction to his death that they decided to memorialize him. The doubtless hefty proceeds from the album will benefit the San Francisco Suicide Prevention Hotline (www.sfsuicide.org).
Good cause or no, be warned that The Silver Session is not the sort of record most people would consider buying -- or even listening to -- if it didn't display the Sonic Youth brand name. But, for radical noise fans, this album is a dream come true.