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Published: 2006/12/23
by Joe Doherty

The Destroyed Room: B-sides and Rarities – Sonic Youth

Geffen Records

Call it a glimpse into the evolution of Western music. One could argue that, in many ways, Sonic Youth picked up directly where the Velvet Underground left off. Indeed, the two failed to even graze one another on the grand musical timeline — Sonic Youth did not arrive until the early 1980s, about a decade too late in the New York City art scene. But the Velvets’ experimental leanings helped underpin punk-rock.

As it happened, Sonic Youth was a profound afterthought; one of the more relevant flag bearers of the post-punk boom. And even though the two groups never crossed paths, they book-ended a culturally vital movement. Speaking in terms of The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities, and, for that matter, Youth’s career, the word “punk” applies only to its ethos rarely the structure of its songs. Sonic Youth is punk the same way jambands are often christened “indie;” both exist in realms, that, for the most part, are devoid of commercialism and where creating music takes top priority.

Destroyed Room, a collection of tracks covering the bulk of Youth’s tenure with Geffen Records, its major label since the late 1980s, celebrates the group’s natural punk bent. It furls together crucial outtakes, B-sides to international singles and previously unreleased material. Much of these goodies hid deep in the protoplasm of the band’s catalog prior to this release.

Chronologically speaking, it dates back to bassist/vocalist Kim Gordon’s wry suicidal meditation, “Razor Blade,” a b-side to 1994’s “Bull in the Heather” single. However, for the purpose of this site, the opening track, “Fire Engine Dream,” makes a lot more sense as the kickoff point. Per the linear notes: “We’d figure we’d start this baby out with a 10+ minute jammer. To paraphrase, or in this case, directly quote the inimitable Hair Police, Let’s see who’s here and who’s not.’” Call it poetic justice. “Fire Engine,” an outtake from 2003’s Sonic Nurse, exemplifies one of Destroyed Room’s consistent themes: the synthesis of guitar fuzz, subtle melodic lines and primitive rhythms into one coherent statement.

Elsewhere, more avant-garde pieces such as “Campfire” and “Loop Cat” float about sans any discernable structure or pattern. The former appeared on At Home with the Groovebox, a compilation that featured fellow indie-rockers Beck and Pavement experimenting with the Groovebox synth/sampler sound machine. Sonic Youth’s contribution results in a brief envelope of looping chirps, weird synth notes and crackling feedback that sounds like a Velcro tear-off session. The latter is an extension of the brilliant mind of ex-member, Jim O’Rourke. O’Rourke, who briefly joined the band around the time it nyc ghosts & flowers in 1999, ushered the group into a new epoch of noise rock. On “Loop Cat,” a track recorded in real time, shimmering outboard effects mesh with a soft guitar line. The dense ambience that results mirrors Yo La Tengo’s bold step in the direction of underwater-film soundtrack-makers in The Sounds of the Sounds of Science.

“Fauxhemians” actualized around the Murray Street period as well. Despite its meaning as the band’s smart-ass answer to an essay written about contemporary bohemian lifestyle in New York, “Fauxhemians” came about in a genuine bohemia atmosphere. The group set up shop for these sessions in Gordon and guitarist Thurston Moore’s apartment with merely a couch, two chairs and a 16-track recording device. Nothing more.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s just punk rock.

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