If you know the slightest thing about Sonic Youth, then when you see their name, acoustic guitars probably aren’t the first thing that comes to your mind.
More likely, you’ll envision some dank, graffiti-covered club, completely overwhelmed by an overpowering squall of electrics turned up past eleven.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Sonic Youth are one of the most influential and important rock bands ever.
Although bands like Radiohead have recently made their mark by burning rock’s rulebook, Sonic Youth, well… wrote the book on burning the rulebook.
On albums like their dystopian masterpiece, Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth’s two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore, took somewhat normal-sounding rock riffs and gutted them. Playing them with reckless abandon in alien, entirely unique tunings, they incorporated them into larger opuses that completely eschewed normal song structure.
Their songs built themselves up, tore themselves down and battled with themselves in cathartic, violent noise sections that could make the most powerful hard rock band sound pathetic by comparison.
Simply put, both Moore and Ranaldo are two of rock’s greatest guitar players. They made their mark not with virtuosity, speed or flash, but with pure, unfettered innovation. But their entirely unique mastery was not limited to their massive collection of tuned-up electrics. Both Ranaldo, and Moore especially have made some acoustic waves.
Moore’s two most recent solo albums, Trees Outside the Academy and Demolished Thoughts were both entirely acoustic. Both records presented another side to Moore, a musician who may have surprised many with the more subtle side of his songwriting skills.
Although without amplification to hammer them home with or to experiment with, Moore’s riffs on these two records are still sublime. The lack of amplification almost does them a favor, letting the listener soak in all of the wonderful details of Moore’s playing.
On Trees Outside the Academy, Moore sets the atmosphere right away with some haunting strings and his acoustic riffing. Even though album opener “Frozen GTR”’s mood is set right away by the creepy strings, Moore’s sinister riff embeds it fully into your brain. His playing on the track is spine-tingling, and one of the better examples of his acoustic mastery.
The next track on the album, “This Shape Is In A Trance,” shows yet another side to his acoustic playing. More laid back but still on edge, Moore manages to write a convincing, propulsive rock song on his acoustic, something few guitarists other than him could pull off.
Here's the official video for "Circulation" from Demolished Thoughts
On the more recent Demolished Thoughts, Moore doesn’t slouch either. Opener “Benediction” is simply one of the most beautiful acoustic rock songs you will ever hear. Carried by a lovely melody and chorus, its all the more rewarding coming from a musician who made his name by doing things like hammering a baseball bat wedged between the strings of his electric.
So even if you can’t stand the toll the experimental noise rock of Sonic Youth would take on your ears, don’t give up on them. This is a band that should be heard, and if you’re looking for an acoustic entry point, Moore’s recent acoustic albums are as solid as just about any acoustic rock releases of the last few years.
Jackson Maxwell is a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He is double majoring in history and journalism. He is an editorial assistant at the Massachusetts Daily Collegian and has his own music blog entitled "Broken Drums." You can follow him here at http://broken--drums.tumblr.com/ or themotorcade.tumblr.com.