A couple of months ago, when he heard that my son was learning guitar, a musician friend of mine offered to teach him the "Sonic Youth chord" that would magically allow my kid to sound like the legendary art-punk band. That lesson never happened, and I kind of doubt that it's really that easy. Still, there's definitely a thriving cottage industry in trying to sound like Sonic Youth -- young musicians of every stripe take aim at their inspired brand of dissonance. On a comp like Confuse Yr Idols
, however, you'll find most bands trying not
to sound like Sonic Youth, putting their own mark on alt-culture icons like "Death Valley '69" and "Dirty Boots". The idea is to admire without kowtowing -- pay homage without xeroxing -- and it's an interesting, if not always successful effort.
"Death Valley '69", the Lydia Lunch collaboration from Bad Moon Rising, gets two wildly different cover treatments here. Racebannon's version is fairly faithful, adding a little (more) discord with singer Michael Anderson's furious vocals. Saicobab, a side project from the Boredoms' Yoshimi, takes a few more liberties, replacing SY's indie drone with sitar-ish Eastern harmonies. Not surprisingly, Saicobab's cover stands up best, shimmering and whispering like a fuzzy mirage, only loosely related to its inspiration. However, simply changing SY's songs around won't automatically make the covers better. New Grenada doesn't exactly reinvent "Eric's Trip" -- they just put a giddy gloss on it, the girl-sung vocals making the song a lot less difficult, a lot more fun, and maybe a bit more disposable than the original.
And then there's the weird stuff, like Twink's heavily theatrical, toy-piano plunked cover of "Cinderella's Big Score". It's actually quite pretty, but about as far from the Sonic Youth source as it's possible to be. Similarly, Tub Ring's "Kool Thing" takes one of my favorite Goo tracks and turns it inside out, finding a loungey James Bond vibe and riding it roughshod over the original. Elf Power's "Kotton Krown", pleasant in a low-key, campfire song way, feels more VU-ish than SY-like with its bent acoustic notes and odd interplay.
None of these tracks will change the way you think about Sonic Youth, but a few of them might introduce you to new bands or a new way of looking at familiar songs. Think of it as extra credit, assuming that you've already done your homework and listened to most of the major Sonic Youth albums.