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By Katherine Travers
Any listener of Sonic Youth mentions how discordant and strange their take on rock was and still is. In the same way that Hendrix changed the power of the electric guitar 20 years beforehand, so Sonic Youth reinvented the guitar with their unique tunings and warped melodies.
However, despite their divisiveness Sonic Youth, with breakthrough albums in the late 80s Sister and Daydream Nation, went on to become hugely successful, both critically and commercially.
Sonic Youth Recordings (SYR), the band’s own label, through which they release what they consider truly leftfield music (even more so than their “mainstream work”) without the targets and expectations of their main record label. SYR was set up in 1997, when the band was with DGC recordings, a branch of the industry powerhouse Universal.
Despite the legendary status of Sonic Youth, allowing them to release anything they wanted to, on any label, the SYR series has remained, with SYR9, the completely instrumental soundtrack to film ‘Simon Werner a Disparu’ being the latest addition.
On the whole the album threads cohesively (if not at times monotonously) frail guitar lines in between heavy feedback and chordal growls, very reminiscent of darker moments such as ‘Trilogy B (Hyperstation)’ on Daydream Nation. Tracks like ‘Chez Yves (Alice Et Clara)” take on rougher ground, hinting at grunge influences, contextually apt for a film about teenagers set in 1992.
The unusual addition of piano is also successful, reverberating hazily around the spaces in ‘Les Anges au Piano’ or providing the eerie brokenness as ‘Jean-Baptiste A La Fenetre’ descends into the cushioned dread of muffled diminished chords.
The music’s greatest triumph lies in creating a false sense of security. The album is slow, contemplative, serene, yet at the same time jarring and disturbing. Similar melodies that play out through many tracks are then transfigured into something all the more dark and disconcerting, like the sinister piano on ‘La Cabane au Zodiac’, which gives the album a simultaneously hypnotic and nightmarish quality.
The only drawback of the album is that, as an instrumental soundtrack, the music is not as successful when it stands alone. However situated in ‘Simon Werner a Disparu’, a film all about mysterious teenage disappearances, Sonic Youth take an expectedly unorthodox slant on the projection of tension, yet do it with an entrancing and elegant execution.