("The Destroyed Room" by Sonic Youth)
While it pains me to give anything less than 5 stars to a recording by what is after all the Greatest American Rock Band of the Last 25 Years--nay, the Greatest Rock Band Period of the Last 25 Years--I'll respectfully knock off one star for this collection of B-sides, demos and other sonic effluvia. This collection, you see, is mainly geared to fans of the band and other related music obsessives--newbies need not apply. If you're just looking to dip a toe into the band's very deep waters, it's better to start with SY's best-of-the-early-years collection, "Screaming Fields of Sonic Love." Those wanting to try a proper album should head straight for "Sister" (which most fans agree is actually their best album) or the epochal "Daydream Nation." The material on "The Destroyed Room" dates back no further than 1994, around the time of the underappreciated "Washing Machine" album, with the majority much more recent than that. In fact, only three of the songs here even have vocals, and one of those ("Razor Blade") is just a brief out-take. If you're already a fan, however, nothing except lack of funds should stop you from diving in, as there are plenty of Kool Things to be found, especially if you share the band's love of free improv. The lengthy instrumental workout that opens the album, "Fire Engine Dream" lets the band stretch out and just explore; needless to say, it's filled with oddly tuned textures and feedback, but also something of a groove courtesy of drummer Steve Shelley, who never receives enough credit. Naturally, SY's guitarists, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo (the real Glimmer Twins, if you ask me) are usually front and center, trading melodic ideas, drones and all-out Sonic abandon with glee. The Kim Gordon penned "Blink" is a surprisingly subtle song that would've fit right into one of the bands proper albums, and "Campfire" is an interesting excursion into abstract electronica. Unlike many latter-day noise merchants such as Wolf Eyes and Sightings, the Youth take a more laid-back, even friendly approach to horrible noise. The days of Sonic Death have been replaced by Sonic Life (an early title for the album now known as "Rather Ripped"), which is, of all things, sunny and positive. This isn't to say that it's "easy listening" (much of the stuff here will cause most "normal" folks to run for the exits). It's just that SY aim to transport listeners rather than smother them. While that approach draws sneering comparisons to so-called "jam bands," they're far more daring than the likes of Phish. If "The Destroyed Room" were released as an "all-new" album, it would definitely be considered the ballsiest release by a major rock band in years.
The biggest treat here, at least for yours truly, is the complete, uncut version of "Washing Machine's" epic coda, "The Diamond Sea." Mind you, the original version clocked in at a huge 19+ minutes--now we get to hear it at a mind-blowing 25:48! That it never feels bloated or wasteful is testament to the band's powere. Of course it's self indulgent, as is much of this album in general, but from them, too much is never enough.