Washing Machine (album)
|Studio album by Sonic Youth|
|Released||September 26, 1995|
|Recorded||January – May 1995 at Easley Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and Mott and Greene Street Studios in New York City|
|Genre||Experimental rock, noise rock|
|Producer||Sonic Youth, John Siket|
|Sonic Youth chronology|
|Singles from Washing Machine|
Washing Machine is the ninth studio album by the American experimental rock band Sonic Youth, released on September 26, 1995 by DGC Records. Unlike previous Sonic Youth albums, Washing Machine was recorded at Easley Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and produced by John Siket and the band. The album features more open-ended pieces than its predecessors and contains some of the band's longest songs, including the 20-minute-long ballad "The Diamond Sea", which was seen as a challenge for a major label release.
Upon release, Washing Machine reached number 58 on the US Billboard Top 200 chart and number 39 on the UK Albums Chart. Two songs from the album, "The Diamond Sea" and "Little Trouble Girl", were released as singles. The album received generally positive reviews from music critics, who praised the band for exploring new challenges as well as the guitar playing between band members Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo. In 1996, the album was ranked at number 18 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 1995.
Background and recording
Washing Machine is the follow-up to Sonic Youth's 1994 album Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, released through DGC. After Experimental Jet Set, the band decided to take a hiatus from performing live and concentrated on numerous side projects. Band member Kim Gordon played with Julia Cafritz of Pussy Galore in Free Kitten, drummer Steve Shelley performed with Jad Fair in Mosquito, guitarist Lee Ranaldo played with free jazz drummer William Hooker, and singer and guitarist Thurston Moore released his first solo album, Psychic Hearts. Moore and Gordon also gave birth to their first child, Coco. According to Moore, their daughter had provided a different perspective for the band: "I'm more focused and level-headed. There's a sublime awareness factor of your spiritual place in the world. I feel more at ease with myself ... Babies are little Buddhas. They're completely great."
Unlike previous Sonic Youth albums, Washing Machine was recorded at Easley Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, where indie rock bands like Pavement, Guided by Voices, and Grifters previously recorded albums. Moore remarked that the atmosphere in Memphis "lent itself to avoiding the reality of the record-buying public. In the past we were always very aware of who was out there checking us out. This was the first record where we've gotten this certain level of notoriety and we were just, like, 'fuck it.'" He also felt that Washing Machine was conceived and recorded like some of the band's earlier albums: "It hearkens back to records like Sister where we'd write a bunch of songs, go into the studio for a month, put them down, then go on the road and play them for a year. By the end of the year they'd mutate into something much more excited." Gordon credited the new place for its relaxed atmosphere and cited the album as one of her favorites.
The song "The Diamond Sea" clocks in at 19:31 and runs approximately six minutes longer on the vinyl version of the album. Moore explained the length of some of the album's songs: "We all have different aesthetics as to how songs should work. I generally push for a lot of abandon while some people in the group are more interested in truncating things. If I was the leader as much as people say I am, every song would be 20 minutes long." The unlisted track 9, officially called "Becuz Coda", was originally part of the song "Becuz", but the record label felt they needed to cut the seven and a half minute track to make the album's opening more accessible. The album was produced by Sonic Youth and John Siket, who had also engineered the band's previous two albums. Audio mixing took place at Greene Street Studios in New York City in June 1995.
Music and lyrics
Unlike Experimental Jet Set, which is often described as difficult and claustrophobic, Washing Machine is considerably more open-ended and contains some of the band's longest songs. It is also the first Sonic Youth album in which Gordon almost exclusively plays guitar instead of a bass, resulting in a three-guitar and drums lineup. Trouser Press remarked that the album contains references to The Shangri-Las and The Byrds and described its style as "[veering] between trance-guitar experiments and more concise statements." Entertainment Weekly described it thus: "these songs unfold over even-tempered rhythms and guitars that linger rather than attack. A splatter of distortion may enter, but the effect is mostly languid and wonderfully hypnotic."
Although Gordon's lyrics on Experimental Jet Set addresses gender roles and stereotypes, her contributions to Washing Machine were considered more feminine and girl-oriented. Tom Moon of Rolling Stone noted, "the title track is an odd, earnest love song; 'Panty Lies' is a playground taunt blown to absurd extremes; and '[Little] Trouble Girl', the Spector sendup, is a dramatic, earnest coming-of-age story." The latter was described by David Browne of Entertainment Weekly as "a teen-pregnancy lullaby" and features vocals by Gordon and Kim Deal of Pixies and The Breeders along with other musicians. Ranaldo contributed to two songs, "Saucer-Like" and "Skip Tracer". The latter was co-written with Ranaldo's wife Leah Singer and inspired when the couple attended a performance of riot grrrl duo Mecca Normal. The song alludes to the band's "crazy dalliance with Hollywood and the major labels."
The track "Junkie's Promise", sung by Moore, was described as a "heroin vignette". It was originally interpreted by many as a tribute to Kurt Cobain of Nirvana. However, Moore later clarified that the song "is purely about the emotional relationship between friends, one of which is a user. Any individual involved with drug addiction will lie to his friends for the self-serving need. It's the cruelest truth of the situation. Kurt may fit this profile and he was surely in my mind as I wrote but the song is not a specific dedication to him." Other songs such as "Becuz" and "No Queen Blues" are built upon "numb grooves with slivers of melody, power, and gorgeously crafted noise." The last track, "The Diamond Sea", was described as a "Neil Young-esque ballad billowing into an epic noise excursion". The song was seen as a challenge for a major label release due to its 19:31 minutes of duration. A radio edit version of the song clocking in at 5:15 was also released.
Artwork and release
The album cover consists of a cropped polaroid shot of two unidentified fans taken at a Sonic Youth show in Amherst, Massachusetts in April 1995, during a short tour undertaken while the album was still in production. The fans are shown wearing T-shirts that were sold as merchandise during that tour; early in 1995, the band was toying with the idea of changing their name to Washing Machine. Visible on the left-hand shirt are signatures by Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw of the tour's opening band Come. The polaroid was found on the floor of the venue and presented to the band. They liked the photograph and wanted to use it as the album cover, but the record label did not want to use it without permission from the fans. The band managed to contact them and eventually got their clearance via an MTV News bulletin.
Washing Machine was released on September 26, 1995 by DGC, shortly after the group concluded their stint headlining the 1995 Lollapalooza music festival. During the festival, the band previewed some tracks from the album in addition to playing several songs from Daydream Nation, Dirty, and Experimental Jet Set. In Europe, the record was also released with a bonus disc containing four live songs. Upon release, Washing Machine reached number 58 on the US Billboard Top 200 chart and number 39 on the UK Albums Chart. The album also charted in several other countries, including Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands and Belgium. Two singles and music videos for "The Diamond Sea" and "Little Trouble Girl" were released in 1995 and 1996 respectively.
|Los Angeles Times|||
Washing Machine received generally positive reviews from music critics. Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic opined that the album is "easily [the band's] most adventurous, challenging and best record since Daydream Nation ... Not only are the songs more immediate than most of the material on their earlier records, the sound here is warm and open, making Washing Machine their most mature and welcoming record to date ... Washing Machine encompasses everything that made Sonic Youth innovators, and shows that they can continue to grow, finding new paths inside their signature sound." Similarly, Peter Margasak of CMJ New Music Monthly described the album as a "powerful consolidation of the band's accomplishments, but a distillation that looks forwards." He also highlighted the song "The Diamond Sea" as the album's centerpiece, stating that it is one of Moore's "most ambitious excursions into pure sonic colors, textures, and tension."
Writing for Rolling Stone, Tom Moon called Washing Machine "a sardonic, wise-ass, indulgent and totally captivating album". He highlighted Ranaldo and Moore's guitar playing and change tactics with every track, commenting that "they've developed an attack that is astonishingly intricate and jazzlike in its extreme flexibility." Prominent music critic Robert Christgau also praised the album and compared some songs favorably to the Grateful Dead and The Fleetwoods. Los Angeles Times writer Lorraine Ali stated that the album "finds Sonic Youth taking no radical new steps but instead holding onto its original groundbreaking formula and watching the big pop world come to it." In contrast, David Browne of Entertainment Weekly felt that the band explored new challenges and wrote that Washing Machine is their "most audacious step yet".
In a mixed review, Spin reviewer Erik Davis criticized the album for its aimless structure, stating that each of the band's members "wanders off in a different direction". Despite this, he heavily praised "The Diamond Sea", calling it "a gorgeous tapestry buried in Washing Machine's uneven load." He wrote that the band "drifts into a beautiful ambient sea glittering with overtones. Then a metallic storm brews on the horizon, before a string of four riveting notes unleashes a festival of Hendrix necromancy ... It's easy to make guitar noise harsh and grating—but Sonic Youth can make it glow. It's easy to use noise as an orgasmic peak—but Sonic Youth can make it plateau, restraining their distortion only to intensify its monstrous serenity." He also said that the song shows that Sonic Youth "may get better the farther out they go", while NME magazine remarked that it "is probably the best song Sonic Youth have ever written." In 1996, the album was ranked at number 18 in The Village Voice's Pazz & Jop critics' poll for 1995.
All music composed by Sonic Youth.
|6.||"Little Trouble Girl"||4:29|
|7.||"No Queen Blues"||4:35|
|9.||"Becuz Coda" (untitled on the packaging)||2:49|
|11.||"The Diamond Sea"||19:31|
|Australian Albums Chart||34|
|Belgian Albums Chart||38|
|Dutch Albums Chart||91|
|New Zealand Albums Chart||41|
|UK Albums Chart||39|
|US Billboard 200||58|
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