Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sonic debacle

K-punk has a go at Sonic Youth and their followers, but misses the point the way I see it.

The prime argument seems to be that SY are faux alternatives to the (a) mainstream, when in reality they are squarly within the mainstream albeit another part of it. K-punk's claim is that the thought that SY represent an alternative is the "fundamentl (rockist) fantasy". Now, while I'm sure some kids (yes, kids) harbor the idea (illusion) that SY are an alternative to a mainstream they feel left out of or don't want to be apart of, K-punk's assertion is in and of itself rockist (post-Adorno) in that he claims to know why people like SY.

Whether or not SY are an alternative to the mainstream or operate within the mainstream is beside the point. I'd argue that noone really sounds quite like SY, and at the same time that SY don't really sound like anybody else. So, yes, they are an alterative. Whether within or outside the mainstream doesn't really matter.

Claiming that SY have been "making the same record for over twenty years" kind of proves that point; the records sound like SY records, nothing else. As a great band once sang: "Mr. narrator/this is Bob Dylan to me". His Bob-ness was himself part of the mainstream while at the same time nobody really sounded like him.

Still, what should be discussed is the music, and this is where I feel K-punk's biggest mistake lies. He doesn't mention it at all, apart from staking the claim that SY have made the same record over and over. That's a populist claim, a claim that doesn't say why this is so, but one that will resonate in the ears of the naysayers and irritate those who disagree.

I find it quite easy to hear a difference between Sister and Rather Ripped. The first is more abrasive, the second smoother. But what it boils down to the songs, the tunes. Both records have good tunes in buckets, and while they sound somewhat different, the classic SY elements are there; Moore's chiming guitar sound, Shelley's pounding and staccato-like drumming, Ranaldo's longer tones, and Gordon's growl, wheter voice or bass. That K-punk can't tell the difference I suspect is down to his hang-up on the mainstream/not mainstream divide. That he doesn't like them I won't hold against him, I'd just wish he'd argument on the basis of the music instead.

Good post by Matt Ingram (welcome back!) on the same issue.

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