Sonic Youth was an American rock band based in New York City, formed in 1981. Founding members Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Kim Gordon (bass, vocals, guitar) and Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals) remained together for the entire history of the band, while Steve Shelley (drums) followed a series of short-term drummers in 1985, rounding out the core line-up. Jim O’Rourke (guitar) was a member of the band from 1999 to 2005.
Sonic Youth emerged from the experimental no wave art and music scene in New York before evolving into a more conventional rock band and becoming a prominent member of the American noise rock scene. Sonic Youth has been praised for having “redefined what rock guitar could do” using a wide variety of unorthodox guitar tunings and preparing guitars with objects like drum sticks and screwdrivers to alter the instruments’ timbre. The band is considered to be a pivotal influence on the alternative and indie rock movements.
After gaining a large underground following and critical praise through releases with SST Records in the late 1980s, the band experienced mainstream success throughout the 1990s and 2000s after signing to major label DGC in 1990 and headlining the 1995 Lollapalooza festival. In 2011, Ranaldo announced that the band was “ending for a while” following the separation of married couple Gordon and Moore. Thurston Moore updated and clarified the position in May 2014: “Sonic Youth is on hiatus. The band is a democracy of sorts, and as long as Kim and I are working out our situation, the band can’t really function reasonably.” Gordon refers several times in her 2015 autobiography Girl in a Band to the band having “split up”. Here are all of Sonic Youth’s albums ranked.
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10. The Eternal (2009)
“Don’t know if I like this album so much because I really like Sonic Youth or because I really just like this album. I think the latter. Every tune does it for me, and I love how the album unfolds as the tracks go by. I like the group, truly, but they’re a little unwieldy to me, though very very interesting. Everyone (well, Sonic Youth fans) says the earlier recordings represent better what the band is really about. So, OK–but this recording seems brilliant in and of itself, regardless what people know and say about Sonic Youth.”
9. Rather Ripped (2006)
“The album is their first post-Jim O’Rourke, who capably played as their first fifth member for many years, and though (their prior) Sonic Nurse is also an excellent album, for me, this is my favorite of their records from their last half decade together. It’s not so much a return to form for them being a quartet again, since they were quite innovative before O’Rourke as well as with him, but a refinement of this era’s work. The songs are beautifully written and performed, and have the signature noisy sounds that SY has been known for, but does not get bogged down by the overly-experimental trappings of their earlier work.”
8. Murray Street (2002)
“Where do you start with Sonic Youth? Their discography is a huge, diverse, impenetrable mess. But here on Murray Street, they tie their most essential threads into one cohesive strand. This release finds them mixing their finest songcraft with some of their most adventurous guitar explorations. Pop melodies and feedback squalls run in equal measure, pleasing every corner of their fanbase.”
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7. Bad Moon Rising (1985)
“Bad Moon Rising is probably one of Sonic Youth’s best albums to date, and is by far one of my favorites. In my opinion, some of the best tracks are “Death Valley ’69” (which features Lydia Lunch), “I Love Her All the Time” (if you like the album version of ‘I Love Her All the Time’, try listening to it live on the Chicago Smart Bar 1985 live album), “Halloween”, the eerie “Ghost Bitch” and “Echo Canyon”. A few other good songs on the album are “Brave Men Run (In My Family)” and “Justice is Might”. All in all, it is a good album that is very interesting, strange (in a good way), and unique.”
6. Washing Machine (1995)
“This Sonic Youth album is one of the best. It has a perfect balance of Sonic Youth’s hard garage punk sound, and their more etheral ambient experimentation. It you kow you like Sonic Youth already, you will most likely dig this album. If you have never heard Sonic Youth, this album is a good overall picture of their entire discography.”
5. Dirty (1992)
“This album will continue to grow on you, The more you listen to it, the more things that you may have not noticed will jump out at you, especially with the guitar riffs on this record it is just an awesome piece of sonic youth. Within their discography “Dirty” should never get overlooked, however it isn’t their magnum opus album but non the less it will kick-ass continually and be a great example of why sonic youth is just an amazing band. Noise rock, alternative rock, whatever people call them, they are just simply “sonic youth”, an amazing rock band from New York.”
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4. EVOL (1986)
“To me this album represents one of Sonic Youth’s finest moments. Sheer noise, lo-fi melody, absolutely inspired lyrical work. I saw them in 1987. They were using an electric drill as a guitar pick, and a screwdriver wedged into the strings for leverage. Thurston spent a good portion of the evening throwing his guitar and letting it slam onto the stage with an explosion of breaking guitar sounds and lots of feedback. With no prior introduction, this spectacle was somewhat disorienting. I didn’t “get” Sonic Youth until I heard EVOL. If you are wondering which record to get, this is a superb starting point. “
3. Sister (1987)
“Yes, I believe this is the best sonic youth release….BUT ONLY with master-dik on it. Master-Dik is one the greatest songs Sonic Youth ever recorded because it comes truly out of the left field and really summarizes the whole experience of sister. Thurston sounds completely out of it, screaming, yes! screaming insane lyrics like “i am the one on the Christmas tree” its just so justifying and instead of hearing “were Ciccone” i always heard “why didn’t you c-c-call me?” which leaves me thinking the adventurous journey that is sister has reached its pinnacle, this self-reflecting rocker feels as though its on the verge of imploding on itself throughout the song and then AGGGGGGGAGGGGHGHGGGHH!!!!! a final scream, church bells come (symbolizing the conclusion) and the album that started with the deranged (and great!) schizophrenia closes….the bells fade…SILENCE…..absolutely best experience ever!!!!!!!!!!”
2. Goo (1990)
“I really like Sonic Youth, definitely a top-5 artist for me. Every album they release stands alone, a snapshot of whatever sonic experimentation they are into at the time. Goo is their first major-label release, the follow-up to Daydream Nation. It’s also the first “rock-ist” release the band ever made. There’s some classic anthems on here, Dirty Boots, the awesome Kool Thing, the playful My Friend Goo (She’s got a real tattoo, hey Goo what’s new!? Pee-eewww! :-D). My personal favorite off this album is Disappearer (though I’ve never worked out why).”
1. Daydream Nation (1988)
“I can guess that this was very innovative at the time, and a big step forward for that kind of post-punk sound. It holds up well, and is definitely a good album, I just have a hard time really getting into it. The production’s a little lo-fi by today’s standards, and I think there’s an overall lack of polish. Some people may like that, which is fine, I just like music crafted with a little more care. It’s a little too long for the amount of ideas it has, and can seem like just a lot of detuned guitars prattling together. It all sounds pretty good, but not much of it really demands my full attention. It’s totally fine to have on in the background when you’re doing something else, but I can’t really see myself dedicating too much of my spare time to it. Not to belittle the album, though. There’s plenty to like about it.”