While most people in the music press hold Sonic Youth’s 1988 release, Daydream Nation, as their crowning achievement, I always go back to their two early Nineties releases: Goo and Dirty. This is partly due to timing, as I was decidedly un-hip at my Catholic junior high, burning out my Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams cassettes, and being strangely frightened by this thing called heavy metal, which had just found its way into Holy Family’s hallowed halls. My musical awakening wouldn’t happen for another three or four years, or, about the time Dirty hit the alt-rock airwaves.
The other factor has to do with my own taste, always striving for “different,” but only a certain degree of different, wanting to embrace noise, drone, and other fringe genres, but also wanting the music to maintain a certain degree of structure and melody. It was on Goo and Dirty that Sonic Youth had found that balance between outsider art and convention, between DIY roots and working within the major label machine, between noisy racket and alt-rock anthems, and nowhere is this balance more evident than on Dirty’s third single, “Sugar Kane.” At six minutes, it’s a long single by the standards of any era. It has all that ragged fuzz and static of Dirty’s first single, “100%,” and a similar chord progression as “100%”, but instead of hitting the listener with intermittent shots of squalor from the get go, it saves its big payoff for the three minute mark, when Thurston Moore frees himself of his duty to convention, and goes on a two minute binge of noisy, effects laden, riffs. Five minutes in, Moore and the band return “Sugar Kane” to its initial melody, thereby restoring the balance between fury and function.