Every Sonic Youth Album Ranked, Ranked Worst To Best

Left to right: Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley in 1991 (Photo: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

Left to right: Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth in 1991 (Photo: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)
Graphic: Libby McGuire

Looking back, it feels like we finally took Sonic Youth a bit for granted. By the time of the band’s implosion following the very public divorce of bassist Kim Gordon and guitarist Thurston Moore in 2011, there had been nearly a decade of recordings in which the pioneering – and ever-evolving – mix of noise avant-garde with radio-friendly rock and roll has received the praise usually reserved for artists considered pillars of a music community that has nothing left to prove. As The audiovisual club put into a 2002 review Murray Street, “doesn’t mark a historic moment for Sonic Youth, but its familiar nods and new ingredients…mark another climax.” In other words: good job, keep doing what you’re doing, etc.

But just as no one expects the day to come when they don’t immediately rush off to listen to a new album by their favorite band, no one can anticipate the end of a band that felt like it would be still there…had always been present, one way or another, in the collective unconscious of a million indie-rock obsessives who felt in Sonic Youth the musical and aesthetic appeal of counter-cultural cool. The group, even as brash young upstarts coming of age on the waveless downtown Manhattan scene in the ’80s, always sounded intimidating but inspiring to older siblings, introducing shy Midwestern nerds and strangers from the coast to the radical possibilities of rock music. merged with experimental avant-garde and a healthy dose of punk. Unless you’re Robert Christgau, issuing edicts on the state of American music from a typewriter in The voice of the village office, Sonic Youth felt like they had something to teach you, and it was going to be exciting.

So when the long-time team decided to leave over a decade ago, we felt like we were losing a band that we hadn’t embraced enough in recent years. The band members’ role as a former statesman, combined with the consistency of the quality of his musical output, made it too easy for fans to simply accept Sonic Youth’s presence in the firmament of culture. pop without properly appreciating what he could still contribute to the avant-garde. – rock table. As a writer Gabe Delahaye called him, it’s the curse of being very good: “At some point, you get tired of eating the same lunch every day, even if that lunch is a FILET MIGNON (widely recognized as the best lunch ever). It’s the curse of the filet mignon.

Sonic Youth was pretty much the most badass filet mignon imaginable. Watch any scene from 1991: The year punk broke, the occasionally satirical documentary of the band’s European tour with opening Nirvana, and try to imagine a world in which the impressionable youngsters of alternative rock wouldn’t want to spend as much time as possible soaking up the spirit, the weirdness and musical chops of all four of them, even anonymous drummer Steve Shelley (arguably responsible for making sure the world hears Cat Power for the first time, among other laudable acts). Whatever “cool” actually meant, rest assured, that included Sonic Youth. And with the release of Entry/Exit/Entrya collection of unreleased music from the last 10 years of the band, it’s awesomed time to remember this fact.

But which Sonic Youth was the best? Throughout its three-decade history, the band’s sound has undergone multiple transformations, sometimes as part of a cultural zeitgeist redefining contemporary rock, at other times an island recalibration far from bounds. alternative music charts. And yet the signature sounds have retained a surprising consistency over the years; there are times about 1985 bad moon rising not so far from the seething beauty of the band’s swansong in 2009, the Lord. That’s part of what made it so indelible: even while constantly pushing the boundaries of genres and sounds, each song remained stubbornly and instantly recognizable as Sonic Youth.

To really trace the arc of his music from thin to slightly less thin, a few parameters were needed. This list only includes albums that are considered part of the band’s studio release canon, which means that the records that Sonic Youth has released through its free experimentation and improvisation label, SYR, are not included. not included. (This includes the variety of EPs and soundtracks recorded over the years, but not the first EP, as we’ll explain below.) This also goes for the unique and playful release. The white album: yes, it’s the band members who make music together, but just look there on the cover—different name, different project. Think of it as the Facebook/Winklevoss rule: if it was a Sonic Youth album, it would be a Sonic Youth album. And while The destroyed room and other compilations contain excellent music, they were not intended as albums and are therefore disqualified.

Still, that leaves 16 albums of music to absorb, from the early days of lo-fi magic through the zenith of commercial polish to the heyday of alternative rock. (Although, as always with Sonic Youth, “commercial polish” should be rated on a sliding scale.) Read on to see where we’ve rated each record, and if at any point you disagree. (why would you?), just remember that Thurston Moore probably shares your contradictory opinion – after all, he thinks the best songs Sonic Youth have ever written are those that “nobody knows.”

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