In 1995 my mother graciously agreed to take me to The Delta Center, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to see R.E.M. Sonic Youth opened this show, playing all twenty-minutes of “Diamond Sea” and a bunch of other stuff from its then-forthcoming album Washing Machine. That music was a big deal for me—it bridged the jam bands of my upbringing to the artier, noisier music that I would soon start seeking out and it had an open-ended spaciousness that I immediately associated with suburbs and the empty western landscape where I lived. It’s still my favorite Sonic Youth record, and I was disappointed when I recently read that Steve Shelly (the drummer) thinks that it’s the worst record they ever made.
Anyway, that was the birth of my long-running Sonic Youth fanboy-ism, which culminated earlier this week in my purchase of the band’s new album, The Eternal, through Matador’s Buy Early Get Now program.
Instead of holding out for a promo, or stealing it via leak, I figured I would suck it up and honor the band by, you know, paying for its music. This was not cheap: The double LP, plus bonus LP package, cost me a little more than $40. There’s a bunch of bonus stuff, though, including an early stream of the record and mp3 outtakes. Also, I bought the most expensive version available, so I really only have myself to blame.
But purchasing The Eternal has reintroduced me to a record-buying behavior that I experienced frequently in ’95, but had forgotten as of late: trying hard.
During the ’90s, when CDs cost up to $18 a piece, buying music was not an entirely frivolous investment. If you were a pre-teen at the time, like I was, that sum represented a lot of time logged raking leaves and chopping back pyracantha bushes. And if you didn’t immediately enjoy that record—be it Naked City’s self-titled record or White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto—you just had to listen to it over and over again until you enjoyed it. It was, after all, on your dime. In the Mp3 era, when music can be obtained quickly, easily, and cheaply, there’s no financial incentive to trust anything but your initial impressions of a record. You can just throw it in the virtual trash can and move on to the next band.
When I streamed The Eternal for the first time yesterday, I was kind of disappointed. As Sonic Youth albums go, it’s in the Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star vein—not bad, but sort of stuck in a holding-pattern. Maybe I was just in a bad mood. It’s better than that Grizzly Bear record, for sure. At any rate, I just dropped $50 on this thing, so rather than snarking it on this blog, I’m going to listen to that audio-stream as many times as it takes for me to start enjoying it. By the time the physical product shows up in my mailbox, on-or-before June 9, hopefully I’ll have converted myself.
And if not, well, at least there’s that live bonus-LP.