Their no-wave noise-punk 1980s pioneering was Chapter 1, and their early '90s attempts at grappling with pop stardom in a post-Nevermind world was Chapter 2. Those have been lauded. But it's Sonic Youth's recent oeuvre with Jim O'Rourke Chapter 3 that's proven most difficult to contextualize. As this set of B-sides, compilation tracks and vinyl-only treats from 1999-2003 illustrates, what SY gained with the addition of O'Rourke's multi-instrumentation and production wizardry, it conversely sacrificed to his unremarkable din and sub-Brian Eno atmospheres. So where "Queen Anne Chair" and "Fauxhemians" ( both from 2001) blaze with a moody guitar chime not heard since the subsequent Murray Street album, the O'Rourke knob-twiddler "Loop Cat" and the affected "Campfire" (built around a Groovebox synth-sampler) are total duds. The clear-cut winner here is the full, unedited 25-minute version of the quintessential Sonic Youth track "The Diamond Sea." Like a Lewis Carroll daydream with the curious guitar vocalizing whirl of "aye-aye-aye" in subdued resonance, this, to quote the liner notes, "blurs the lines between composition and improvisation." And that, in a phrase, is what Sonic Youth has always embodied. Destroyed Room fulfills the band's contract with Geffen Records, and formally waves goodbye to O'Rourke. Here's hoping the next chapter in Sonic Youth's sound world is as fruitful and astounding, and maybe even as contentious as the past three have been.
Ben Blackwell writes about music for Metro Times . Send comments to [email protected].