Daydream Nation

Another of the books we’ll be publishing in the spring is on Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. (Which reminds me: how on earth did this batch of books end up being so late-80s? Aside from the Joni Mitchell and Sly Stone albums, these were all released in either 1988 or 89. Weird.) Matthew Stearns is in the midst of writing this Sonic Youth book, anyhow. Here’s a taste:

“Screwdrivers, drumsticks, LP records, rubber bands, screws and small metal objects.”
–Lee Ranaldo, on objects that have been forcibly incorporated into the bodies of his (many) guitars.

The pregnant void awaits you!

Listen close and you’ll hear it in those moments of not-so-silent silence before the music surfaces. It lives in the split-seconds of aural emptiness that teeter on the edge of any album juuuuust after the needle engages the vinyl (or the magnet snuggles up against the tape, or the laserbeam hits the compact disc—though the needle landing on wax seems the most potent of the three mediums) and juuuuust before the start of recorded sound. It also lives in the space between tracks. And its there lingering at the end of an album, after the last notes have dissolved. Like me, you’ve probably seen it hush large roomfuls of people—inciting a pindrop silence similar to that of sacred rituals (group meditation, prayer, public moments-of-silence), focusing the collective attention, and introducing a sense of drama and anticipation. It exists in a kind of liminal state—it is audio, but not music. And yet, depending on the particulars of the record and those listening, it can contain whole fields of emotion, history, evocation, and narrative associated with the music it surrounds. It’s a charming, aggravating paradox: an emptiness with content.

On our most beloved records, these pauses get incorporated into the overall listening experience and become nearly as important as the music itself. Sequences of sizzles and knocks on vinyl, the hiss of a cassette tape, and the rhythmic cadence of the digital spaces between tracks on CDs—all get lodged in our memory as permanently as the songs they bracket. On the albums most familiar to us, during the pauses between tracks, you can literally hear the upcoming song before it starts.

There are entire worlds contained in these vacant spaces of records.

Just before the opening guitar strains emerge on Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, we’re given a moment or two to collect ourselves, take a deep breath, and brace for impact. In those first few moments, with the right ears, I swear you can hear all of the following:

1. New York City (including but not limited to: rumbling subways, screeching taxis, various municipal operations in disarray, the distribution and receipt of goods and services both legitimate and criminal, etc).
2. An overboiling frustration with the deathsuck of Reaganism.
3. Both the necessary culmination and regeneration of a rock sound that helped change how rock could sound.
4. Four people about to throw an extended claustrophobic fit.
5. A revision of the role of femininity in rock.
6. The deliberate mapping and construction of a double-album.
7. A rock band about to do something perfect.
8. The sound of a drumstick being forced into the body of a guitar.
9. Both a rejection and an embracement of various manifestations of rock cliché.
10. A whisper and a scream.

15 thoughts on “Daydream Nation”

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  3. I guess all you guys are American, HOWEVER: this album had just as big an impact on us silly Europeans when it came out, especially on me who still regard the Trilogy at the end of the record as one of the most hypnotic pieces of musical experimentation, bringing you up and down continuously until it fades away, gently dropping you back into your seat and feeling you were submerged in a different world. If it doesn’t work for you straight away, try smoking a spliff first, that will do the trick.The best band in the world EVER when it comes to alternative rules of music backed by an extremely emotional and personal contribution of each band member, which is basically the only thing that makes music worth listening to.

  4. Sonic Youth’s 1988 album Daydream Nation has been added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. Daydream Nation now joins Emile Berliner’s ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ and ‘I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man’ by Muddy Waters (among other recordings) in the collection mandated by Congress ‘to maintain and preserve sound recordings and collections of sound recordings that are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.’

  5. “By most accounts Daydream is a transitional record””By most accounts?” Sez who?”A transitional record?” Between what and what?Dude, Daydream Nation is the Holy Ghost in the Sacred Trinity that is also comprised of Evol and Sister.”A transitional record?” Tell that to the Library of Congress.

  6. By most accounts Daydream is a transitional record though as transitional records go, it’s damn fine. Long-format songs, greater emphasis on songwriting while still retaining the independence and experimental touches of earlier works and most of all, the potent sense that the band was doing something important. As others note here, the decade was ending and change was already in the air and I’m sure fueled and paralleled changes in the band.Ultimately not my fave, I still get a lot out of this LP (on Blast First! anyone?) these years later. Oh, and I’m totally getting the book!

  7. unlike most of the folks who’ve posted here, I only started listening to SY about 3 years ago…back when ‘Daydream’ came out, I was heavily addicted to the metal scene, and, in particular, Metallica’s “..And Justice For All” (which I still regard as one of the three best metal albums ever).But, thankfully, I’ve grown up a little and have come to discover the genius of SY, and ‘Daydream’. It’s definitely inspired me to get more of their cds. See? Even metalheads grow up!!!

  8. Like the other “Anonymous” said, I didn’t get it at the time either. Years later, having completely forgotten it and while reading their biography, I realized it was time to check it out again, which I did stoned, late at night…and enjoyed one of the most exquisite listening experiences I’ve ever had. Best double album of all time…

  9. i’m with Martin. i’ve always thought that Washing Machine and Experimental Jet Set were FAR better albums than Daydream and EVOL, though I DO love both those albums!

  10. interesting. although i´ve never really understood the fascination for daydream nation compared to other records by them. i think sister, goo, experimental jet set and especially washing machine are all more special. but..i will read this as it seems like a nice book.

  11. well, i bought this record when it came out – and i must admit i wasn’t fully ready for it at the time. but it started growing on me the months and years that followed – and now (17 odd years later?) it suddenly became something like an obsession to me. reason enough to buy the book…

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