Sonic Youth is the debut release by American alternative rock band Sonic Youth. It was recorded from December 1981 to January 1982 at Radio City Music Hall, New York City and released on Glenn Branca's Neutral label in March 1982. It is the only recording featuring the early Sonic Youth line-up with Richard Edson on drums.
Although less than twenty five minutes long, it is considered by the band to be their first studio album.
Sonic Youth is the only Sonic Youth release in which the guitars predominantly use standard tuning, yet this album is representative of their early experimental no wave roots. Professional production and a crisp sound quality isn't heard from the band until their major label releases. Drum-wise, the songs feature the more "downtown" Roto-tom-addled stylings of Richard Edson, approaching the quasi-funk/hip-hop rhythms of 99 Records bands like ESG and Liquid Liquid. The bass, though often playing minor key riffs, is almost funk-based, which was a common feature of no wave music. The clean guitar tones, without fuzz or atonalities, contain little of the trademark noise that Sonic Youth would eventually become famous for, besides glimpses such as the static solo in "Burning Spear" and the dissonant solo in "I Don't Want to Push It". Several of the most peaceful songs in their early career are featured here ("I Dreamed I Dream" and "She Is Not Alone"). The overall tone of the album is restrained yet loose in composition, as they had yet to develop into the tight and complex wall-of-noise unit that would eventually become more pop oriented with their later work.
Sonic Youth was originally released in North America as a 12" vinyl EP on Neutral Records in 1982, and in Europe on the German Zensor label in 1984.
In 1987 SST reissued the album in its original vinyl format, as well as on cassette with all five tracks running on its first side. The flip side of the cassette featured the same five tracks on the other side, but played backwards from last to first, and the printing on both the j-card and cassette matched this: side one had the band name and song titles printed forwards, side two had them printed as a mirror image. That same year the EP saw its first CD release by SST in the U.S. and by Blast First in the UK.
Sonic Youth was reissued in 2006 on CD and as a double-LP with a number of bonus tracks that bring the running time to 63:04. Added are seven songs from a live performance recorded on 18 September 1981. Most of the tracks played were based on pieces composed by the band for the Noisefest festival held earlier in 1981, while others predate the band itself, such as Kim Gordon's song "Cosmopolitan Girl". Several of these pieces are quite different from their studio counterparts, in particular the noisy early version of "She Is Not Alone". Amongst the tracks is the instrumental "Destroyer", previously coveted by bootleg collectors. Also added is a studio recording of a song that appears in the live performance, "Where the Red Fern Grows". The song, an early version of "I Dreamed I Dream", was recorded in October 1981. This version is an instrumental, while on the live take Lee sings two lines towards the end.
The 2006 booklet contains new photos as well as extensive liner notes from Glenn Branca, Richard Edson, Byron Coley, and a "few notes" concerning the album from Thurston Moore. On the Geffen Records CD reissue, the tray card is double sided – the side that faces out contains the track listing with a bar code and an RIAA anti-piracy notice and the opposite side has the same track listing without a bar code or an RIAA warning. Despite the CD reissue on Geffen, logos for Neutral Records, which the album was originally released on, can still be found in numerous places in the package.
Robert Christgau C
Piero Scaruffi 7/10
In their review of the 2006 reissue, Pitchfork called the EP "obviously more primitive than the quartet's later work", noting that "the recordings offer a ghostly, mesmerizing locked groove" and that "this is SY at their most icy; it's an erudite, windswept set, wrapping distortion inside danceable half-frozen Liquid Liquid beats." AllMusic wrote, "Awkward and rather formative, the record sounds like a fusion of no wave and an early Factory band."
No. Title Lyrics Vocals Length
1. "The Burning Spear" Thurston Moore Moore 3:28
2. "I Dreamed I Dream" Richard Edson, Lee Ranaldo 5:12
3. "She Is Not Alone" Moore Moore 4:06
No. Title Lyrics Vocals Length
4. "I Don't Want to Push It" Gordon Moore 3:35
5. "The Good and the Bad" 7:55
[show]2006 CD reissue bonus tracks
Tracks 6–12 are from an early live recording (Music for Millions Festival at New Pilgrim Theatre, New York City on 18 September 1981)
Track 13 is an early studio recording
Kim Gordon – bass guitar, vocals, guitar on "The Good and the Bad"
Thurston Moore – guitar, vocals, bass guitar on "The Good and the Bad"
Lee Ranaldo – guitar, vocals
Richard Edson – drums