Sister (Sonic Youth album)

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Sonic youth sister.png
Original uncensored LP cover
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 1987
StudioSear Sound, New York City
ProducerSonic Youth
Sonic Youth chronology
Sonic Youth studio album chronology
Daydream Nation

Sister is the fourth studio album by American alternative rock band Sonic Youth. It was released in June 1987 by SST Records. The album furthered the band's move away from the no wave genre towards more traditional song structures, while maintaining an aggressively experimental approach.

Like Sonic Youth's previous records, Sister was not successful at the time of its release. In the years following, however, it received much critical praise, with several publications naming it as one of the best albums of the 1980s.

Background and recording[edit]

Sonic Youth released their third album, EVOL, in May 1986. During the tour of the album, the band began writing material for a new album ("White Kross" had been written earlier, circa May 1986). Sister was recorded to 16-track in March and April 1987 with Walter Sear at Sear Sound, entirely on analog tube equipment, giving it its characteristic "warm", vintage feel.[1][2]

Sister is a loose concept album (like its follow-up Daydream Nation). Sister was in part inspired by the life and works of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The original titles for the album were Kitty Magic, Humpy Pumpy and Sol-Fuc,[1] but it was named Sister as a reference to Dick's fraternal twin, who died shortly after her birth, and whose memory haunted Dick his entire life.[3] "Sister" was also the original title for "Schizophrenia", and Thurston Moore often introduced it as "Sister".[4]

Music and lyrics[edit]

According to Sputnikmusic's Adam Downer, Sister deviated from the frenetic sound of Sonic Youth's previous music in favor of a refined style of noise pop that would typify the band's subsequent work.[5] The album features aggressive noise songs such as "White Kross" and "Catholic Block", as well as a menacing noir ode, "Pacific Coast Highway", although it also featured more traditional song structures. Some of the lyrics on "Schizophrenia" were originally written for early song "Come Around" ("Your future is static, It's already had it/But I got a hunch, it's coming back to me").[6] "Sister" was the original title for "Schizophrenia", and a live recording of the song from June 4, 1987 at The Town and Country Club in London was released on the B-side of a bootleg 7" single under the title "Sister". The A-side featured their cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with Iggy Pop.[4] Both tracks from the single were later issued on the DVD portion of Screaming Fields of Sonic Love.

The band used acoustic guitars on some songs on the album for "melodic" purposes, one of the first being "(I Got A) Catholic Block".[7] Another was "Beauty Lies in the Eye", which used three or four guitars.[8] "Pipeline/Kill Time", sung by Ranaldo, was written on April 5, 1987, although several lyrics were not included in the final song.[9] "Tuff Gnarl"'s working titles were "Sea-Sik" and "Smart and Fast", but the band ultimately decided to call it "Tuff Gnarl", inspired by the line "He's running on a tuff gnarl in his head". Mike Watt covered the song on his album Ball-Hog or Tugboat? with Sonic Youth members Moore, Ranaldo and Steve Shelley performing it with him.[10] For the eighth song on the album, the band covered Crime's song "Hotwire My Heart". "Kotton Krown" (or "Cotton Crown") was the first Gordon and Moore duet, although Moore usually sang it alone during live performances.[11] The last song on the album, "White Kross", was the oldest song on the album and was featured on an NME 7". On the band's 1987 European tour, they extended the song, adding five or six minutes of white noise at the end; this outro was later named "Broken Eye".[12]


The artwork of the original front cover contained a photograph of 12-year-old Sandra Bennett, taken by Richard Avedon on August 23, 1980, but it was censored for later releases after a threat of a lawsuit.[13] At first the picture was merely covered up with a black sticker, but on later pressings it was removed, only showing a black area. Similarly, a photo of Disney's Magic Kingdom on the back cover was later obscured by a UPC code.[13] Very early promotional posters and pressings of the album did feature these photos, but later ones did not.

Release and promotion[edit]

Sister was released in June 1987 by SST (US) and Blast First (UK) on vinyl, CD and cassette. After its release, the band began their European tour, during which a part of the Master=Dik EP was recorded at a radio session in Geneva. They toured the US in September and October, replacing their usual encores of "Hotwire My Heart" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with four Ramones covers. A recording of a concert the band played on October 14 in Chicago was officially released as Hold That Tiger.[14]

Videos were shot for "Beauty Lies in the Eye" and "Stereo Sanctity". The black-and-white "Stereo Sanctity" video, featuring clips of whirring factory machinery and brief live shots of the band, can only be seen on a rare 1980s SST video compilation titled Over 35 Videos Never Before Released. The band did not release an official single from the album.

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic5/5 stars[15]
Blender4/5 stars[16]
Chicago Tribune3.5/4 stars[17]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[18]
Los Angeles Times3.5/4 stars[19]
Q4/5 stars[21]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide5/5 stars[22]
Spin Alternative Record Guide9/10[23]
The Village VoiceA[24]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau called Sister an album that was finally worthy of the band's aesthetic. Christgau said that while Sonic Youth had learned to temper their penchant for "insanity", their guitar sound was still "almost unique in its capacity to evoke rock and roll without implicating them in a history few youngish bands can bear up under these days".[24] In a negative review, Spin magazine said that the band failed to successfully mix their previous "nonsense" with "real rock tunage", as the more tempered musical approach lacked riffs and strong ideas.[25] The album was voted the 12th best album of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll for 1987.[26] Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked it fifth on his own list.[27] The album ranked No. 4 among "Albums of the Year" for 1987 in the annual NME critics' poll.[28] The single "Saturday Night" was also listed at number 28 on their list of Top 50 tracks of the year.[28]

In a retrospective review, AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine called Sister "a masterpiece" and "one of the singular art rock records of the 1980s, surpassed only by Sonic Youth's next album, Daydream Nation".[29] Slant Magazine called it "the last great punk album of the Reagan era, and the first great pop album to emerge from the American underground", while listing it as the 72nd best album of the 1980s.[30] Pitchfork ranked Sister as the 14th best album of the 1980s.[31] NME rated it No. 80 in their list of the greatest albums ever, and No. 37 in their list of the 50 greatest albums of the 1980s.[32] In July 1995, Alternative Press magazine voted Sister the third best album of the decade spanning 1985–1995.[33] Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 72 in its list of the best albums of the 1980s.[30] Paste magazine's Josh Jackson listed the album at No. 39 on his list of "The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums", saying, "While the following year's Daydream Nation may be their indie-rock masterpiece, the weirder, more muscular Sister exemplifies everything great about post-punk music."[34]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Sonic Youth (Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley), except as indicated.

1."Schizophrenia" Gordon, Moore4:38
2."(I Got A) Catholic Block" Moore3:26
3."Beauty Lies in the Eye" Gordon2:20
4."Stereo Sanctity" Moore3:50
5."Pipeline/Kill Time" Ranaldo4:35
6."Tuff Gnarl" Moore3:15
7."Pacific Coast Highway" Gordon4:18
8."Hot Wire My Heart" (Crime cover)Johnny StrikeMoore, Gordon, Ranaldo3:23
9."Kotton Krown[a]" Gordon, Moore5:08
10."White Kross[b]" Moore2:59
CD bonus track


Sonic Youth


Release history[edit]

Region Date Distributing Label Format
US, UK June, 1987 SST Records, Blast First Vinyl, CD, Cassette
Brazil 1989 Stileto Vinyl
US, Europe 1994 DGC, Geffen CD, Cassette
UK 1996 Mute vinyl
US 2011 ORG Music Purple marble vinyl



  1. ^ This track was named "Kotton Krown" on the CD/LP label on the original Blast First release and LP label on the original SST release, but was named "Cotton Crown" on the CD label on the original SST release, the subsequent reissues and in the booklets in all releases.
  2. ^ This track was named "White Kross" on the CD/LP label on the original Blast First release and LP label on the original SST release, but was named "White Cross" on the CD label on the original SST release, the subsequent reissues and in the booklets in all releases.


  1. ^ a b c "Sonic Youth Sister". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  2. ^ Kot, Greg; Leland, John; Sheridan, David; Robbins, Ira; Pattyn, Jay. " :: Sonic Youth". Retrieved April 14, 2013.
  3. ^ Browne, David (June 2, 2009). Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81603-2.
  4. ^ a b "Sonic Youth Schizophrenia". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  5. ^ Downer, Adam (April 21, 2007). "Review: Sonic Youth – Sister". Sputnikmusic. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  6. ^ "Sonic Youth Come Around". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  7. ^ "Sonic Youth Catholic Block". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  8. ^ "Sonic Youth Beauty Lies in the Eye". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  9. ^ "Sonic Youth Pipeline/Kill Time". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  10. ^ "Sonic Youth Tuff Gnarl". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  11. ^ "Sonic Youth Kotton Krown". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  12. ^ "Sonic Youth White Kross". Retrieved 11 May 2013.
  13. ^ a b "SISTER". SONICYOUTH.COM. Retrieved 23 April 2013.
  14. ^ "Sonic Youth Sister". Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  15. ^ Deming, Mark. "Sister – Sonic Youth". AllMusic. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  16. ^ Wolk, Douglas (October 2006). "Back Catalogue: Sonic Youth". Blender (52): 154–55.
  17. ^ Kot, Greg (September 27, 1992). "The Evolution Of Sonic Youth". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  18. ^ Larkin, Colin (2011). The Encyclopedia of Popular Music (5th concise ed.). Omnibus Press. ISBN 0-85712-595-8.
  19. ^ Hochman, Steve (July 5, 1987). "Catholic, Cathartic". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
  20. ^ Bengal, Rebecca (May 9, 2019). "Sonic Youth: Sister". Pitchfork. Retrieved May 9, 2019.
  21. ^ "Sonic Youth: Sister". Q. London (118): 144. July 1996.
  22. ^ Sheffield, Rob (2004). "Sonic Youth". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 758–59. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  23. ^ Weisbard, Eric; Marks, Craig, eds. (1995). Spin Alternative Record Guide. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-679-75574-8.
  24. ^ a b Christgau, Robert (September 1, 1987). "Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  25. ^ "Spin-Offs". Spin. New York: 31. August 1987. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  26. ^ "The 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice. New York. March 1, 1988. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  27. ^ Christgau, Robert (March 1, 1988). "Pazz & Jop 1987: Dean's List". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  28. ^ a b "Albums and Track of the year for 1987". NME. Archived from the original on November 14, 2011. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  29. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2001). "Sonic Youth - Sister". All Music Guide: The Definitive Guide to Popular Music. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 376. ISBN 0-87930-627-0. Retrieved June 11, 2016.
  30. ^ a b "Best Albums of the 1980s | Music | Slant Magazine". Slant Magazine. March 5, 2012. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  31. ^ "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s | Features | Pitchfork". Pitchfork. November 20, 2002. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  32. ^ " ...NME Greatest Albums of 60's 70's & 80's". Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  33. ^ " Press." Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  34. ^ Jackson, Josh (July 13, 2016). "The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums". Paste. Retrieved August 26, 2016.

External links[edit]