Album: Sonic Youth

Sonic Nurse, Geffen
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Now in their 24th year together, the New York avant-rockers are more Sonic Senior Citizen than Sonic Youth, but age becomes them rather more than the callowness of their early years. Either that, or their newest member, Jim O'Rourke, has had a different effect from that bestowed (as producer) on Wilco: Sonic Nurse is as focused as any of the Youth's 18 albums, teetering elegantly on the atonal fringes of rock music while rarely losing touch with a song's direction. As they put it in "The Dripping Dream", "We've been searching for the cream dream wax/ Low killers make the meters crack" - unless I've got it wrong and the song's about violent sex rather than music. The album's manner is established by the angular guitar structure and tom-toms of the opening "Pattern Recognition", whose almost-pop dynamics are supplanted by a cacophony of guitar noise. The method is repeated in tracks such as "Unmade Bed" and "Stones", in which the guitar lines take on a peculiar, austere beauty. The stand-out pieces are "Peace Attack", a war commentary, and "Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream", a scathing side-swipe at soul-diva attitudes that loses none of its power with the eleventh-hour substitution of the Youth bassist for the original subject, Mariah Carey.