Sonic Youth

All posts tagged Sonic Youth

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

It has been over two decades since the world last heard from Cleveland alternative rock pioneers, Death of Samanatha. The band became one of the key players of the 80’s college rock movement, craving out a unique niche in the scene. But by the later part of the decade, at what seemed as the height of the group’s success, they disbanded and have remained relatively quiet for more than 20 years. Now they’re poised for a comeback with a long-awaited reunion disc spanning their short-lived but highly influential career.

Formed in 1983 by singer and guitarist John Petkovic, guitarist Doug Gillard, bassist David James and drummer Steven Eierdam, Death of Samantha took the scene by storm, becoming one of the first notable alternative/indie rock frontrunners in Cleveland. The infamous first gig at a Ground Round family restaurant has become that of legend. With bizarre stage antics, puck rock ethos and sound primed and ready for college radio, the band quickly rose to recognition, and caught the eye of Homestead Records in 1986.

At the time, Homestead Records, based out of New York, was home to some the biggest names underground rock had to offer at the time, including Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Dinosaur Jr. The full length debut for the label, Strungout on Jargon, brought the band on the national underground scene. They continued to tour the latter half of the 80’s alongside big names such as The Replacements, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Death of Samantha supporting Sonic Youth in the mid-80's.

Death of Samantha supporting Sonic Youth in the mid-80’s.

Sadly, as their aforementioned touring partners caught major label deals and broke out onto the early 90’s MTV scene, they never stuck it out long enough to ee their break. Following the release of Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants in 1988 and Come All Ye Faithless in 1990, Death of Samantha called it quits. A small reunion was attempted in 92, but never got off the ground. The band, whose influence can still likely be heard on rock radio via post-grunge/post-alternative acts (think Bush, Everclear, and perhaps Green Day).

In recent years, the original lineup of Death of Samantha have remained active musically, playing a handful off one-off reunions such as at the Beachwood Ballroom in Cleveland and 4th and 4th Fest in Columbus, Ohio. As of late last year, the have recorded an 18-track double album titled If Memory Serves to be released on Feb. 11 via the band’s St. Valentine Records. It will be their first release in 24 years.

If Memory Serves is comprised of re-recordings of old material. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Petkovek said that the two-disc retrospective has gotten the band’s creative juices flowing, as they are planning more endeavors for the coming months.

“…a lead-in to a tour and a record of all-new material in 2015,” said Petkovek.

With a wealth of 80s indie rock acts such as My Bloody Valentine, The Replacements and the Pixies reuniting and releasing new music, there is no doubt that the time is right for Death of Samanatha to return to the scene and pick up where they have left off. Perhaps nostalgia for some, and a new chapter, new era or even a new beginning for many others.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

From the trailblazers of experimentation arose a movement inspired by those sonic strides as well as art, fashion and mind-expansion known as Psychedelic. The sound was comprised of music (most often rock) which imbued the aforementioned with new found recording technology, effects pedals for the predominant instruments, guitar and bass with Eastern scale structures, was first noticed by most of the Western world in the mid 60’s through the Beatles in England and in the Byrds in the U.S.

From there, pop, folk and the blues, which were then primarily simple melodic tunes, became more experimental. Whole new projects/bands devoted to this sort of direction arose, especially in California. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and led by the infamous Jim Morrison, the Doors.

Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Ray Manzerek, keyboardist of the Doors were true masters of their instruments and led their respective bands to play and sing against some scale and chord structures that most pop fans have never heard; and it worked. The music was intriguing but still catchy. Again, as any movement seems to rely on, Jazz was employed and drawn from as was blues for the simple yet gritty melodies many of the frontmen came up with. It is not to say, that vocalists, such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane did not have their head wrapped around what was going on instrumentally. In fact, Slick was one of the first songwriters to grab everyone’s attention with her famous unlipsyched performance of “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers show in ’67 and a host of catchy yet thought provoking songs on their most famous record, Surrealistic Pillow.

While anything by Airplane, the Grateful Dead or the Doors from the 60’s would be a great example of some of the best/best known in this sub-genre, it is important to acknowledge just how DEEP it got by the 1970’s. Instrumentally, tonally, lyrically and melodically. Things on the whole were getting heavy. More to the point, Psychedelic music (especially blues based) has had the most effect on what became Heavy Metal.

Many know the legend of Hendrix’s playing being described as, “Heavy metal falling from the sky…” and his death in the 70’s may have caused some artists/bands inspired by him to quit or follow down the same path as him. But in the 70’s, even though America had hits such as “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,” England was booming with the heavy side of Psychedelic with Cream and the hard hitting, Blues-rooted Led Zeppelin and eventually Black Sabbath, who was known first as a Psych-Blues band called Earth.

American Psych Rock (for the most) part maintained their takes on the movement and led more than ever into Space Rock (perhaps due to propaganda of the times) as the Jefferson Airplane-turned-to-Jefferson Starship teased. However, little known bands that were following suit in other countries made enormous strides of their own and led to the Progressive Rock that would become famous as a huge European movement.

Did Psych Rock crash like a Led Zeppelin? It is through Pysch Rock and the ever revolving door of Brit Pop Revivals that led to the Madchester movement in the North of England in the 80’s and 90’s. Even more hair splitting took place with sub-genres which resulted from the poppy melodic dance elements New Order and the Happy Mondays employed (Beatles, Byrds) to the Psych inspired guitars of the Stone Roses, and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr’s playing coupled with the group’s intelligent and outspoken front man, Morrissey (Airplane, Doors) and ultimately back to the heavy darkness of Joy Division (Sabbath).

Those elements’ thought provoking depths inspired Punk and Glam in the 70’s such as Loud Reed’s solo career and part of the New York Dolls’ early sound. Goth and Sludge acts in the 80’s and 90’s felt the influence too, most notably withe acts like Sleep, Kyuss and Tool. Kyuss’ psychedelic riffs on Blues for the Red Sun in 1992 and Tool’s psychedelic-prog masterpiece, Aenima in 1997. Shoegaze acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Brit Rock groups Oasis and Blur also hinted at the influence of 60’s Psychedelic rock. Finally, by the 00’s, sludge acts like Melvins and Isis, along with the rise of EDM and the rave scene, all flash a heavy influence of Psychedelic music with spacey reverb and hypnotic sounds.

And this shouldn’t have as much to do with it as all that but people in every decade since have taken drugs.

The Doors, live extended version of “Light my Fire” in ’68

Cream, live and very heavy in ’68

Little known early heavy 70’s psych trio, The Flow

New Order, very out there deep cut from 1983’s “Power, Corruption and Lies”

The Stone Roses, their far out Madchester single, 89’s ‘I Wanna be Adored”

Lastly, I leave you with a dramatization of making of Joy Divisions’ “She’s Lost Control,” as depicted in the film 24 Hour Party People, which spans the history of the Madchester movement.

Experimental artist and Pink Floyd founder, Syd Barrett.

Experimental artist and Pink Floyd founder, Syd Barrett.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

For decades Experimental Rock has developed, undeveloped and done 360 degree turns. We can say that Experimental Music started with Classical and Jazz but in Rock the first pioneers lied seemingly quiet and dormant under their more traditional rock and roll peers since the early 60’s until listeners were ready for the next “thing.”

Luckily, the social and cultural climate was becoming more interested in outside or even foreign idea(ls), modes of thinking, fashion and art. This would of course inevitably happen in music as well. The most popular music of course was rock and roll. And one of the grandfathers, Frank Zappa, composer, producer, album art designer and director, while known for his dozens of records with The Mothers of Invention and solo actually had a rough start getting into music… Business wise. Though in his youth he studied advanced composers while still partaking in his generation’s R&B and Roll and Roll he was at first (like most innovators) overlooked as the standout artist he would grow to become.

He began writing contemporary classical in his youth and attempted to front projects before his first well known one, Captain Beefheart. He recorded some tracks with the name The Soots but they were turned down due to having no selling point. In the early 60’s, (at the height of Beatlemania) he began recording and experimenting with multiple overdubs, tape manipulation and less likely instrumentation. As a film composer he paid the bills and managed to take over what became his own studio, Studio Z. In addition, he started as guitarist with The Mothers, which managed to get paying gigs.

While Zappa made ends meet he still did it creatively though he was producing and writing songs for other groups throughout the early and mid 60’s. Actually, though none of them achieved much commercial success, he managed to get his music heard on a late night syndicated show, hosted by Steve Allen wherein he did what well he pleased with experimentation and sonic architectures.

The Velvet Underground was also experimenting, though eventually more known as a Psychedelic band (subgenre) their use of instrumentation was outside of the framework though they did still compose “hooky” melody lines.

These two artists were pinnacle in the many that were to follow experimentation, even the Beach Boys (a pop group) were on board, as composer Brian Wilson always admired advanced composition and the famous Pet Sounds resulted.

Onto England, Syd Barrett and his project, The Pink Floyd formed and their first record The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was recorded in 1967 (the same year of the aforementioned musical developments were made alongside in the US.) The Infamous Summer of Love was the name of this music explosion in American but also in England. Pink Floyd was on board this movement whether Syd knew it or not, as were the Beatles. In fact, the first Pink Floyd record was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith.The Beatles were recording, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which also put experimental rock into the limelight in their own psychedelic pop/rock way. In August, Pink Floyd’s “Arnold Layne” reached honorable status on the English charts in part due to their other single, “See Emily Play.” The full length, Piper at the Gates of Dawn was unexpectedly successful in England, hitting the top of the album charts and subsequently their third single the very baroque pop, “Apples and Oranges,” perhaps because it was about a common theme, love.

During their British tour with Jimi Hendrix in November 1967, around the time of his third hit single, several guitarists began to replace Barrett though he was a the brainchild of the band because of his legendary erratic behavior, which was due to a chemical imbalance made worse by LSD use. Speculation suggests that though he achieved commercial success it aggravated him and his schizophrenia. He was soon to be seemingly forgotten. Nonetheless, he remains an innovator in sonic exploration and (often bizarre) rhythmic experimentation and overall, a master architect of guitar.

In later years, he reemerged as a “bedroom” songwriter of odd little ditties that were melodic but still arrhythmic. Lyrics might have not been as relatable as many songwriters are known for but they allowed for more abstract understanding such as achieved by daydreaming or meditation. One feels like fly on the wall of a man trying to distinguish between lucid dreams or his waking on a Sunday morning as he tries to make as mundane  a decision about whether to have coffee or tea.

Hendrix, on tour with Barrett and early Pink Floyd rose to his success in 1967 as well but in terms of what he wanted this music to be called he once was very defensive. He was quoted as saying:

“We don’t want to be classed in any category… If it must have a tag, I’d like it to be called, ‘Free Feeling’. It’s a mixture of rock, freak-out, rave and blues.”

Though not known as a pop artist, he appeared on British television shows, Ready Steady Go! and the Top of the Pops, though his single, “Hey Joe,” made a small splash in 1966.

In Spring 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s singles, “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” and the album Are You Experienced? joined the queue with the Beatles and Pink Floyd. And through Zappa, Barrett and Hendrix experimental rock had a large impact and subsequently Psychedelic and Space Rock which was born in the sixties and of course even more sub and sub-genres flourished throughout the seventies until today.

Throughout the seventies, Pink Floyd kept going with the Psychedelic elements into Space Rock and finally to Concept(ual) Rock. Alongside the ever changing climate of the seventies Zappa continued his career and in Europe, Kraftwerk introduced us to electronic instrumentation which was then considered extremely progressive with their first LP, “Autobahn.” Though many electronic elements were used it was still classified as rock and led to yet another subgenre, Krautrock.

Sonic Youth began experimenting back in America and of course became the example for many new bands and defied subgenres into the 00’s. In both rock and electronic, composer, Brian Eno and Thom Yorke of the very successful Radiohead, began to become household names to many musicians to the present day when it comes to experimental and sonic architecture, much like Zappa. Modern Baroque Pop artists such as the Animal Collective and Arcade Fire also have owe much to these innovators who influenced even the previously mentioned former “bubble gum” writers like Lennon/McCartney, Brian Wilson who continue to impact every songwriter in ANY genre.

Many artists and subgenres developed merely from musicians wanting to think outside the perimeters of rock and roll song structure and instrumentation. Very obvious references to Jazz, notably Acid or Progressive Jazz have been made especially early one all but at the core Experimental Rock is about using other elements and bringing them back to rock whilst being inventive yet not “being weird for the sake of being weird…” as Hendrix once remarked.

Picks of the Week leading to this article:

  • “Room Full of Mirrors,” Jimi Hendrix
  • “Joe’s Garage,” Frank Zappa
  • “Interstellar Overdrive,” Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd
  • “Octopus,” Syd Barrett

Frank Zappa

Syd Barrett (live with Pink Floyd)

Syd Barrett (Solo)

Sonic Youth

Brian Eno

No AlternativeBy Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

During the early 90’s, many music fans in both England and America felt at a for loss words for identifying what was coming out of their post-punk and/or underground rock music scenes. That music eventually became known as the Alternative genre. College Rock Radio seemed to gather the remnants of music that American kids liked, but it was not very cohesive scene-wise/sound-wise.

Inevitably, a movement was bound to take place. In England, the Northern movement, “Madchester,” developed due to the Joy Division-influenced aftermath with journalist Tony Wilson at the helm.

Similar mass communication mediums such as radio, TV and magazines started to again coin genre names in America shortly thereafter. What was going to be the new “thing?” During the very fevered formation of this new genre, the compilation album, No Alternative, was released in 1993 with a whole host of acts that before didn’t seem related, yet conceptually, they came together on this album and it made sense. Alternative, in the broadest sense, was born out of various sounds of rock and folk (song-writer) genres and on the whole seemed to encompass more thought-provoking lyrics than what was on the radio at the time; similar to their post-punk and folk-punk predecessors.

The most popular offshoot of the genre became Grunge (especially in Seattle), but Art Rock artists from other parts of the country were at first often overlooked in this more broad Alternative genre due to media and playlist regularity. Artists such as Sonic Youth, Smashing Pumpkins and Pavement were on the peripheries in the early 90’s, probably due to their more obvious Classic Rock influences, but eventually they enjoyed a steady fan base growth which was more correlated to the aforementioned Northern English music movements such as the “Madchester” movement and of course the ever repeating Brit Rock revivals.

English music show host, Jools Holland, became more influential in a way of picking up where Tony Wilson left off and connected the dots between the American and English scenes throughout the 90’s and the 00’s, reminding us of what and how the term Alternative really came about. An alternative type of music to what was typically played on top 40 rock radio. This is how and when the term became full circle. And now fans expect such artists to almost transcend the induced sub-genres and be beyond a genre, to be something different yet each having THEIR OWN cohesive sounds. Ironically it is NOT about a scene.

Observe.

As well as the aforementioned artists and Picks of the Week leading to this article I know present some wonderful examples that have been often overlooked after the initial Alternative heyday was over. These artists have also really have gone beyond genre and in a way back to what “Alternative” meant, what rock and roll means and what songwriting is. And many of these are from their founding scene giants were from. (Northern England, Seattle.) Just goes to show.

England:

Ocean Colour Scene – The Day We Caught the Train

The Unbelievable Truth – Solved

America:

Jets to Brazil – Chinatown

Pedro the Lion – Live on KEXP

Lou Reed

Lou Reed

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

Visionary, trailblazer, cool, godfather, original, genius, brooding, artistic, inspirational. Those are just some of the terms that come to mind when referencing the godfather of art rock, Lou Reed.

Reed’s 46-year career spanned several eras, trends and movements. Somehow, the iconic rocker always managed to be cited as a leader or influence. And up until his passing last month, Reed was still going strong, still challenging his audience and still making an intellectual and trend-setting statement.

Reed’s career begin in the mid-60’s as frontman of The Velvet Underground. While most bands of the time were drenched in psychedelia and trying to play louder than their predecessors, Reed and his bandmates were taking an intellect in rock and roll to a whole new level, birthing the sub-genre of art rock.

The Velvet Underground were, at the time, rock’s best-kept secret. With themes of sex, drugs and violence, it certainly wasn’t very in step with much of the “hippie” movement. They were arguably the first cult band, with a devoted underground audience despite a serious lack of national radio play or television exposure. In a pre-Internet world, they were among the first acts to connect others like-minded, one a smaller yet wide-ranged scale, selling only 30,000 copies of their debut album. As Brian Eno was once famously said, “…everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Their association with Andy Warhol and their artsy approach gained the band even more popularity throughout three studio albums in the late 60’s and lasted long after the group disbanded in 1970.

Reed’s career was far from over after The Velvet Underground. He took the world by surprise in 1972, releasing two of rock’s greatest masterpieces, his self-titled solo debut and the David Bowie and Mick Ronson co-produced Transformer. Transformer was arguably the first glimpse of Gothic rock, featuring Reed on the cover donning black clothing and eyeliner. The album’s smash hit, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” was a dark and ironic tune, paying homage to all the misfits and freaks that surrounded The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol in the late 60’s.

The following year, Reed took steps into progressive rock, releasing the concept album, Berlin. Darker than Transformer, Berlin told the story of two junkies in love in the city of Berlin. Songs of severe drug addiction, prostitution and suicide further expanded Reed’s fascination with the darker side of the human experience.

By 1975, Reed released another critical work, Metal Music Machine. Although the album was considered a commercial failure and sold poorly compared to Transformer and Berlin, it’s influence spread wider than originally imaged. The album consisted heavily of electronic noise and feedback; a stark contrast to his well-produced earlier solo works. However, the album’s noisiness went on to heavily inspire early NYC punk/alternative acts like the Talking Heads, as well as entire sub-genres such as noise rock and proto-industrial.

Reed’s experimentation, both sonically and lyrically, continued over the next 30 years. With the occasional commercial successes and the equally occasional commercial flops, Reed always managed to remain relevant through out the ages. Punks admired his ambition and lack of interest to play nice with the music industry. Acts as diverse as Iggy Pop, The Flaming Lips, The Smiths, Sonic Youth and Jane’s Addiction all cite Reed, as well as The Velvet Underground, as critical influences on their music.

His final musical stand came as a very unlikely collaboration when he teamed up with metal icons Metallica in 2009. He first performed with them at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s 25th Anniversary Concert, and later announced he would be recording an entire album with them. The result was 2011’s Lulu. The album, based on a late-1800’s German play, went straight to number one on the Billboard charts. However, the album was quickly deemed a critical and commercial flop. Both parties stood behind the project, as Reed again managed to challenge his audience, whether they liked it or not.

Reed’s unrelenting search for thought-provoking and challenging artistic statements were ultimately the reason for his long-lasting relevance and his wide-spread influence. Reed never tamed himself and never necessarily gave his fans the music they were expecting to hear next. It’s because of his ambition and fearlessness that he remains a true icon, visionary, and the King of Cool. Even after his death, as long as rock and roll is still kicking, his life and influence will continue to be celebrated.

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

Shoegaze act Catherine Wheel circa 1993. Photo courtesy of MTV.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

The early development of the Shoegaze genre lies somewhere in the post-punk haze of the 80’s. Gothic/Ethereal artists such as Cocteau Twins and The Jesus and Mary Chain began to fuse elements from uncategorized and/or “art” rock acts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur, Jr. The name itself evolved because artists, namely guitarists, where using a lot of effects on their guitars through the use of various pedals and stomp boxes and they seemed to be “gazing at their shoes” during performances.

Though many of the genre’s predecessors often used a lot of layering or effects in their music via multi-tracking, in live situations they were more sparse. Live performances from Shoegaze artists differed in many instances because they rarely changed the arrangement or the effects, although the layering was done in a more ethereal or blurred out way to begin with on the records, it was a bit easier to cope with live. Moreover, live versions were even more exaggerated because of this. Shoegaze greats Ride and Catherine Wheel are prime examples of this practice.

By the 90’s, a sister sub-genre called Dreampop surfaced with artists such as Slowdive and Lush. Their music featured the noise of Shoegaze, however was a bit more poppy and melodic. Even Brit Rock/Pop bands like The Stone Roses also experimented with many of the budding trademark sounds with their single, “I Wanna Be Adored” in 1991.

However, 1991 was the year that the first significant stride was made in Shoegaze. One of the first acts to be described as both Dreampop and Shoegaze, the influential My Bloody Valentine, combined airy female vocals and guitarist Kevin Shields’ distinctive sonic wall of guitar noise. In fact, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless had a great impact on many guitarists in the 90’s, not just in Shoegaze, but Alternative in its broadest sense. Billy Corgan and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins are notable followers.

The torch was in a way, carried most authentically to British band, Catherine Wheel. Shoegaze became full circle and the trademark sound was “nailed” by them in 1993 with their second record, Chrome. This is arguably the cornerstone record in this genre with its dreamy and catchy melodies sung with Gilmour-esque soothing ethereal vocals and sonically lush (but often still aggressive) guitars and concepts which vary throughout. This record is also one of the most unsung and overlooked recordings of the 90’s in general due to the quick shift in focus to the rise (and fall) of Grunge.

However, not all was forgotten. Catherine Wheel went on throughout the 00’s, inspiring new fans of other genres to not only go back and listen to their old records, but discover My Bloody Valentine’s, Loveless too, and draw from a perhaps small collection of Shoegaze records. Even more so, the quality that spanned Smashing Pumpkins’ range of influences, as well as successful English Alternative/Rock acts such as Radiohead and Pulp, had therefore inspired yet another Brit Rock Revival.

In the Shoegaze lineage, little known but amazing American artists such as Starflyer 59 (often referred to as a Space Rock band) and Hum plugged away through the 90’s. In more recent years, the independent two-piece act, Have a Nice Life, emerged with one of the greatest Shoegaze mixtures ever, especially on their debut album, Deathconsciousness. The presence of Dreampop-y melodic hooks, spacey textures and even darker undertones, hark back to the beginning of this genre’s early Post-Punk/Goth influences. (Refer to some of the artists mentioned in last month’s Gothic Rock article).

In addition to the previous Picks of the Week, which I used introduce this origins of this genre I now include for your enjoyment:

Catherine Wheel – Black Metallic. From recommended album, Ferment. 1993

Starflyer 59 – Hazel Would. from recommended album, Silver. 1994

Hum – Stars. From recommended album, You’d Prefer an Astronaut. 1995

Have a Nice Life – Bloodhail. From recommended album, Deathconsciousness. 2008