Maybe it was the death of Robert Quine, or just the long string of Tuesdays that brought nothing but crap in shiny packages to the new-release bin, but in the weeks leading up to the release of Sonic Youth's latest album, anticipation was mitigated by a sense of wistful retrospection. Where had 23 years gone? What had happened to the austere young aesthetes who shrieked their way out of NYC in a haze of (partially) Quine-induced guitar skree? What was left now that he was gone and youth had given way to modern maturity? When did the raucous three-chord shimmy of AC/DC become the three-chord boredom of Jet, and why did one set nuts afire while the other set teeth on edge?
Had middle age come this quickly?
Carefully, with the reverence of the collector, all seventeen preceding Sonic Youth albums were removed from the shelf and played through, in sequence and in their entirety. And in the hermetically sealed world of headphones set on stun, where time is measured in the melting of one track into the next and the only thing that matters is the song that is battering your head at this very moment, 23 years were relived over the course of a long weekend.
Personal favorites and minor classics and songs tolerated solely because they were sandwiched between the former became new again when experienced in this continuum. An output that once seemed demarcated by phases of growth or regression or stasis now seemed strangely transparent; there were no abrupt shifts in tone or method, only constant motion. The music always moves, and the horizon always seems to be just out of reach.
Then Sonic Nurse, number eighteen in the series, slipped into being, pushing up against Murray Street's haunches. Steve Shelley continued to propel things with syncopated twitches and thuds; Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo stoked huge gouts of magnetic resonance off into the night; Jim O'Rourke limned it all with a skeletal fringe of hiss and blur; Kim Gordon cooed and sighed and shouted the blank verse. It could have been the pulsing beauty of "I Dreamed I Dream" or the wobbly shimmer of "Schizophrenia" or the bottle rockets-under-water pop of "Sweet Shine" or the elegiac drone of "Diamond Sea." It was always going to be Sonic Youth, and it was always going to be worth it.