If you affiliate yourself in any way with punk, grunge, alternative or avant-rock and haven’t yet familiarised yourself with at least a handful of Sonic Youth recordings then there’s something sorely wrong. They’ve shared stages and labels with your favourite bands be they Swans, Black Flag, Nirvana or Merzbow and influenced more nerdy teenagers to experiment with alternate tunings and feedback than you could possibly shake a stick at. Without them we most likely wouldn’t have ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Mogwai or The Men and a whole generation would be fuddling around in the dirt wondering where to take rock music next.
With the future uncertain given the rift between Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, this re-release of Hits Are for Squares is crass yet timely: a welcome reminder of the band’s breadth, reach and influence and an effective follow-up to 1994’s Screaming Fields of Sonic Love ‘best-of’. Being no strangers to kitsch, star-struck celebrity goggling it’s perhaps fitting that alongside the musical luminaries handpicking the tracks here – Beck, Eddie Vedder and Mike Watt of the mighty Minutemen – are directors, actresses and other such glitterati keen to coo at the feet of alt-rock’s eldest statesfolk.
The tracks they’ve chosen are mainly culled from the sequence of albums from 1986’s Evol to 1994’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, offering a smattering of mid-level ‘hits’ (Bull in the Heather, 100%, Sugar Kane) alongside a handful of more experimental – albeit none-too-challenging – excursions. Order of the day are chiming, crystalline guitar tones twining effortlessly with surging rushes of ecstatic sound; this backdrop laced by Gordon’s breathy, stream-of-consciousness whisper and Moore’s lackadaisical drawl. Alongside the aforementioned rock club dancefloor-fillers you get the occasional furious lunge courtesy of Rain on Tin; the wiry, plunk of early number The World Looks Red; the spiralling abstractions of exclusive track Slow Revolution; and – somewhat curiously – just one solitary cut from the band’s most-feted release, Daydream Nation.
As with any such release Hits Are for Squares offers comparatively little for long-term devotees, but for lapsed fans or those seeking a gentle point of entry into Sonic Youth’s sprawling back catalogue it’s a more than worthy purchase from perhaps the only band on the planet capable of earning patronage from both Glenn Branca and Gossip Girl. --Alex Deller
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