Sonic Youth's early 80's efforts possessed screeching, unorthodox guitar workouts, never really seen or heard beforehand, and passionate, off-kilter vocals, all of which turned off as many fans as it attracted. It could be said that the band's fourth LP, 1986's "EVOL," and their critical breakthrough, 1987's "Sister," were formative works for Sonic Youth, indicating a significant shift from atonal, hook-less white noise bursts to structured sets of songs. However, even today each of these respectable records pale in comparison to the band's 1988 masterpiece, "Daydream Nation." It might be the case that "Sister" and "EVOL" would stand alone as magnificent, influential albums if it were not for this release, but after one experiences "Daydream Nation"'s excellence, the former appear almost insignificant.
"Daydream Nation" begins with the most accessible song Sonic Youth recorded in the 80's, the sonorous "Teen Age Riot." Laced with multiple hooks and affecting lyrics, the opener is this album's guidepost, presenting listeners with a caricature of the band's principal innovation: the combination of melody and instrumentation with fury and disorganization. From there, expansive tracks such as "The Sprawl," "'Cross the Breeze," "Total Trash," and "Trilogy" conjoin beautiful, haunting passages with strident vocals and thrashing guitars, while songs like "Candle," "Hey Joni," and "Silver Rocket" are more succinct, hooky jaunts which enthrall the listener while battering his or her ear drums like a punching bag. Oftentimes, the album relinquishes control, as guitarists Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore weave and wind their axes into what seems to be total oblivion, eschewing convention and normalcy for avant-garde experimentation and the musical equivalent of a nervous breakdown. Nevertheless, unpredictability may be Sonic Youth's chief strength and distinguisher, and on occasions when it is displayed, they traverse where no band before them dared to go.
In many respects, "Daydream Nation" is the 80's best rock album. It may not be its most influential, but it certainly ranks with Husker Du's "New Day Rising" or the Pixies' "Doolittle" in terms of its originality and presence, which could be observed many years after its release. In essence, it's unquestionable that "Daydream Nation" is a definitive must-have milestone...it was the future of rock in 1988, and today it remains as relevant and fresh as ever.