If you want to name a band that is incredibly divisive among the music community, you don’t really need too look much further than Sonic Youth. While there is some general consensus that Daydream Nation was a classic, the rest of their library generates a considerable larger amount of debate. Are they wildly experimental art rock/punkers that pioneered much of what 90’s rock and roll would sound like, or are they as the titular main character of Juno puts it, “just noise.” I feel like I probably fall somewhere in the middle of these extremes. While the grunge movement would not exist without the influence of Sonic Youth and its frontman Thurston Moore, there are times when the band descends into noise rock excess where any attempts at recognizable melody or recurring riffs are discarded in favor of incomprehensible layers of noise. Sometimes the noise works and adds the band its titular sonic effects, but for the most part, it comes off as sort of pretentious and boring.
At times on this album, 1986’s Evol, it’s almost like Thurston Moore had seen into the future, heard grunge, and decided to invent the blueprint from which grunge would rise and yet sound remarkably distinct from his copy cats. Through grunge’s signature use of heavily distorted guitars and disorienting reverb, Sonic Youth are able to fashion an instrumental and sonic landscape that is entirely their own. At times, they even experiment into more avant-garde territory especially on the tracks that feature Kim Gordon on lead vocals that stray even further away from either noise rock or alt rock conventions. At moments like that, you can see the genius that would lead to Daydream Nation. Alas, the highs still aren’t particularly high, and they don’t occur often enough, and when the lows hit, I kept praying for the album to be over.
“Tom Violence” sounds like it could have been a B-side for Daydream Nation. It was a great melding of their growing proto-grunge style with the distortion and reverb that is partially noise rock as well. “Green Light” was the best track on the album as it was entrancingly sonic in nature. Much like a great Radiohead track, I found myself incredibly lost in the dense instrumental landscape that the distortion effects had caused. “Shadow of a Doubt” features Kim Gordon on lead vocals where she displays her knack for breathy, almost ethereal vocals as well as exploring some uncharted territory for Sonic Youth which is a light electronic sound which really works in the context of the song. Tracks like “Marilyn Moore” and “In the Kingdom #19” were virtually pure noise, and I just couldn’t find myself engaged with those songs or other tracks that relied overly heavily on sheer walls of noise. There was no place for me to enter the song emotionally or intellectually and to engage myself with the music.
I’m admittedly not a fan of noise rock. So, perhaps, I’m not qualified to review this album. Yet, at the same time, I know the potential and talent they have because of Daydream Nation, and so, Evol is extremely disappointing in comparison. I hated Kid A and Person Pitch the first time I listened to them, and I love those albums now, so maybe this one will eventually grow on me, but for now, it stands as an unfortunately uneven undertaking that shows flashes of future genius without ever really tapping into what will eventually make this band the legends of alt rock that they’ve become. To all fans of Sonic Youth, please don’t hate. It’s just how I feel.
Final Score: B-