Album: Washing Machine
. . .
As well as contributing “Superstar” to the Carpenters tribute, Sonic Youth put out an album in 1994: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star. I didn’t like it, which surprised me so much, I kept listening to it in the hopes that I might change my mind.
However, I didn’t have that issue with the follow-up, 1995’s Washing Machine, which featured not one but two of the longest songs they’d ever record: “The Diamond Sea,” which we’ll drown in a couple of days from now, and the Kim Gordon-sung title track.
Said title track — “Washing Machine” — at one point, was going to be the name of the band they put it out under, because while they were still well and truly sonic, the “youth” part was slipping away. Also, like so many artists who had done epochal work, the mountain of that work had now piled high enough as to potentially crush everything they would do in the future. This, of course, is the career artist’s dilemma, and for some reason, it’s even more acute with a band than it is with a solo artist, maybe because solo artists can change things up — especially in terms of the musicians with whom they work — far easier than a band, which relies upon an indefinable internal chemistry that makes it harder to fuck with the process and still producing good results.
And I’m not immune from this: Washing Machine — because of course they didn’t change the band name, because it wouldn’t have solved any of the problems and would have introduced a shitton of confusion to boot — is the last Sonic Youth album to produce more than a couple of Certain Songs, which is probably more on me than it is on them.
Anyways, “Washing Machine” the song is basically a three-part suite, like “Band on the Run,” while, of course, being nothing at all like “Band on the Run” outside of the fact that the first two parts are cool, but the final part is transcendent.
And in fact, I can’t even tell you what Kim Gordon is even singing during the first part, in which she is shouting what sounds like “right now” through the reliable squall of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore’s guitars. Or for that matter, the second part, where the guitars are gone and it’s Gordon singing over her own bass and Steve Shelley’s drums, which have refused to really supply a proper beat, until everything stops, and a pair of lovely guitars come floating in from the heavens.
And here we go. Eventually both Gordon and Shelley come back in, and suddenly we are in Velvets land, especially with Ranaldo (I’m assuming) doing some cool ostrich-guitar flourishes, as Kim Gordon turns into Patti Smith.
I was walking up Lafayette street
It’s real empty
And I looked out and it turned into a big field
And I looked up in the sky
And I looked up in the clouds
And I saw this face looking down at me
And it’s a women’s face
And she threw a quarter down at me and she said:
“Honey, here’s a quarter go put it in the washing machine”
And then I looked up at her
I looked up
After that, it’s time to go for a ride on the guitars, which fronk and skarnk and splosshel and crangle against each other and against the world, eventually resolving into white hot lava coating the song, the record, your room and the world. It’s fantastic, to say the least, and kind of the John The Baptist to “The Diamond Sea’s” Jesus.
“Washing Machine” live in Germany, 1996
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