Teen Age Riot * Sonic Youth * Daydream Nation * 1988
I always wanted to like Sonic Youth more than I think I ever did. In the mid-90’s, when I first became aware of them (alongside most music, honestly), they were the elder statesmen of alternative rock. Sonic Youth was the band that people who enjoyed Nirvana and Soundgarden and whatever probably never heard of but was like, so much better. They were the ultimate band for hipsters before that was even a thing, basically. Since I was way into 90’s alternative rock at the time, I figured Sonic Youth was a band to get into. I could be a cool kid too! As it happens, I bought the wrong albums at first. It was all atonal, mellow noise that I didn’t understand and didn’t appreciate at the time. Then I bought Daydream Nation, and Sonic Youth suddenly made sense.
The album is a legit masterpiece, and it sounds exactly like what the title advertises. “Teen Age Riot” is the lead track, and it’s a seven minute long romp that begins with a long, dreamy intro. The rest of the album flows seamlessly from here, each track taking on different textures and sounds but still retaining a tone of not-quite-reality. Daydream Nation is beautiful as a whole, and “Teen Age Riot,” despite being the first track, is still the standout song. Not to disparage thirty plus years of songwriting, but it’s hard to argue that this is the best work Sonic Youth has ever done.
“Teen Age Riot” is a song about latent youthful rebellion, at least that’s what it has always sounded like to me. The lengthy intro lulls you into a dreamy place, lethargic and pleasant. Then the riff kicks in, the drummer counts in and suddenly I want to start throwing trash cans through Starbucks windows. Not literally, relax. There is a restlessness to the song, however, a nervous energy that doesn’t quite know how to express itself. There is no cathartic explosion of noise at the end, so the entire song is building to a climax that never really happens. Instead of being frustrated by this, I find I just let the song peter out in my mind, much the same as furtive feelings of actual civil unrest. It is a difficult feeling to express, but the song just feels right.