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demonrail666 08.30.2007 04:09 PM

reassessing nyc ghosts and flowers
Because A Thousand Leaves shows signs of a 'new' SY starting to emerge, what about its follow up? Another album of theirs that I rarely listen to these days. So, again, here goes.

1. Free City Rhymes. A quiet opener with some really nice vox from Thurston. Great subtle twin guitar action. One of my fave SY songs, even though it's one of their more understated ones. Lisyening closely, there's a sense of really early stuff like Halloween and Shaking Hell in some of the guitars. A great opener.

2. Renegade Princess. Laid back opening soon cranks up to a nice chugging rocker with some pretty cliched lyrics. Great drumming from Steve and a real nice guitar sound running through it that sort of remind me a bit of what Thurston had done earlier as part of Dim Stars. The ambient/noise breakdown at the end is OK if a bit unnecessary. It's almost as though they feel like they have to do it these days.

3. Nevermind. Typical nursey rhyme feel to this one from KG. Not nearly as annoying though as some of her other playground-pop excursions. And this does have that great riff that comes in for the chorus, of course.

4. Small Flowers Crack Concrete. Thurston is no poet, but this is OK. Nice guitars that sort of rumble along underneath until they slowly build and eventually take over.

5. Side2side. This starts out brilliantly. A kind of KG mantra spoken over simple Krautrock-like guitar and percussion that all build slowly to a sudden stop. An excellent track that I'd largely forgotten about.

6. Steamxsonik Subway. This is another one of their songs that I can't work out whether I like or not. Great music, annoying vox.

7. NYC Ghosts and Flowers. Beat poetry from Lee that is OK until he tries to put some melody in his voice. Again, musically there's a sense of an earlier, darker SY youth here, similar at times to something like Halloween. Would've been an incredible instrumental.

8. Lightnin. A nice semi-free-form closer that really reminds me of Satan is Boring.

A great album on the whole, with no real low spots. It doesn't have a 'Hits of Sunshine' or even a 'Karen Koltrane', but the downbeat, nocturnal feel that runs through it make this a far more consistent album than ATL.

nicfit 08.30.2007 04:33 PM

I love this album sooooooooooooooooooo much. Nice reading your comments.

Danny Himself 08.30.2007 04:43 PM


4. Small Flowers Crack Concrete. Thurston is no poet, but this is OK. Nice guitars that sort of rumble along underneath until they slowly build and eventually take over.

This is an awful effort by Thurston, lyrically. His worst... well, besides the great title.

SynthethicalY 08.30.2007 04:44 PM


Originally Posted by Danny Himself
This is an awful effort by Thurston, lyrically. His worst... well, besides the great title.

I love that song, But I think the best song is the Nyc Ghost and Flowers.

atsonicpark 08.30.2007 04:49 PM

This is their darkest album. I think this is probably the darkest period in the band, they were perhaps creatively bankrupt (which might explain why O'Rourke became a member after this) and this was right after their gear got stolen.. I sense a lot of tension in the band, judging from the songs... also, the song titles and lyrics and overall message seem far different from anything SY had attempted before or after this.. truely, a radical album (and a 0.0 from pitchforkmedia).

That being said, the song "NYC Ghosts and Flowers" was a song I never paid much attention to until it won the "best Sonic Youth song ever" tournament at the old board ("STEREO SANCTITY" SHOULD HAVE WON!!!!!!!!!!)... then, I listened more closely and realized that it is, indeed, in the top 3 best Sonic Youth songs. Everything about it perfectly captures what makes Sonic Youth so equally beautiful, catchy, mysterious, tuneful, tuneless, and impossibly driven.

The lack of distortion and effects (I know there are effects, but they're subtle and seem to have more to do with the mixing of the record than an obvious flanger or wah-wah or something) seem to make this album sound a bit more "classical" than their other stuff (in other words, the effects don't modernize the recording and instead give it the effect of an old Beatles record or something).. the "clean" approach has been used by many bands who usually rely on distortion, least successfully being the Melvins (sorry)... but Sonic Youth succeed, and it gives the album an extremely EXTREMELY creepy feeling.. the fact that you can hear every note perfectly now also brings to mind Captain Beefheart.. it's not music made for effects boxes, it's just bizarre tunings, chordings, and notes. Nice. It's also some of the old clean stuff they've done since the self-titled album. I think the "Cleanness" of this album is a very overlooked part of it.. it and a few other things (lyrically, structurally) seem to completely erase what Sonic Youth had done before. It was almost like the "clean" guitars represented some kind of "cleansing" for the band (and the title track is the ultimate demon cleaner in a way, completing destroying the fabric of time).

The production is immaculate, of course, and the poetry is.. interesting. Not sure if Kim's lyrics are all that hot (okay, they suck), but her vocals are a bit more subdued usually. "Free City Rhymes" is probably the best SY opener ever.. that was the first SY song I played for my best friend Booe (who typically only enjoys classical music) and he said, "Everything they're playing is perfect." He's right.

There seems to be a lot more improvisation on this album than before, which is nice, though it may bog down the album a bit considering the unbelievably short running length (this is their shortest album since Sister, I believe). Still, the album is full of good ideas and good songs, even if a few are half-written.

Listening back to the album now, I actually realized something I never thought of before (another reason to love these threads)... this album is totally how Slint would sound if they lived in New York City...

Also, listening now, I am trying to imagine these songs as played on piano. I bet they would sound amazing.

..Anyway.. the spoken word vocals are nice, though a bit much at times, and I think Lee's vocal is the best on the album, as usual (when he breaks from his spoken word into singing, it's amazing) -- though a few lines stick out as kind of ugly. "Hey any of you freaks here ever remember Lenny?" Hmm.

An uncharacteristically dark album from SY, especially since the one after this one is one of the brightest things they've done. Still, I wouldn't have minded a few more albums similiar to Ghosts and Flowers. It's very concise and straightforward and too short to get boring, and there are moments of unbelievability musicality. In the big picture, not at all one of the best SY albums, but probably their weirdest and darkest. Thumbs up.

SynthethicalY 08.30.2007 04:51 PM

I do agree it is a very dark album. I got a sense of that when I first listened to it.

atsonicpark 08.30.2007 04:52 PM

Re-reading what I wrote, I'm not even going to bother editing "unbelievability musicality".

andrei 08.30.2007 06:20 PM

The most underated album by critics, seems to be one of their best. My favorite all-time album. (yes, better than DDN or Beatles).

Toilet & Bowels 08.30.2007 06:23 PM

awesome album, i'm really at a loss as to why a lot of people dislike it, or at least disliked it when it came out. if you dislike this record you're a sucker.

Everyneurotic 08.30.2007 06:54 PM

this is my next sy purchase for sure.

i have tons of bootlegs from this era and i have to say those songs really stand out.

jetengine 08.30.2007 07:35 PM

It's a dark album--no question about it; but nowhere near as dark as Confusion Is Sex, which has long been my contender for "darkest album of all time", outcreeping even the works of Black Sabbath, The Pink Floyd and Joy Division.

the ikara cult 08.30.2007 07:37 PM

I think it gets darker as it builds but Free City Rhymes is a really beautiful and gentle opening song, it has a very "morning" feel to it. At the time of buying the album i didnt think much of it but i get alot out of it now when i put it on.

atsonicpark 08.30.2007 10:02 PM

hmm, yeah, confusion is pretty dark, but the darkness seems more apocalyptic in tone ("confusion is next"), whereas the darkness here seems more.. i dunno.. depressing.. like you're alone at 3 am and there's no one on the phone.. hmm..

nicfit 08.31.2007 03:19 AM

Seeing/listening NYC G&F played as an encore in the "goodbye 20th century tour" is probably my best live-music related experience to date

therealglenstyler 08.31.2007 03:55 AM

I llve this album madly.
I think the lyrics are great (I'm certain steamxsonik subway is absolutely meant to be a hilarious psychadelic sci-fi funk out), side 2 side is beautiful you looneys!
I think atsonicpark is bang on the money in sussing out that what freaks veryone out about it is the lack of distortion and the poise behind every note. reminds me of having a coffee first thing in the morning sat on my bed looking out the window at the station over the road and watching the commuters and the joggers in the park beyond.

sarramkrop 08.31.2007 04:02 AM

I absolutely adore this record to the extent that I used to scribble its title everywhere, and I've posted one such scribble on the SY fan art section. It was so strange when it came out, because it's the only record that they made in the 90's that I wasn't aware was coming out at all, considering that by then I was obsessed (and to an extent I still am) with them. Up to Sonic Nurse, which let me down quite a bit, they were one of those bands that would make you feel like you were having a lot of fun on a rollercoaster. When I've listened to Rather Ripped for the first time, I felt like a kid that had his toys snatched off him abruptly by a pedo.

ZEROpumpkins 08.31.2007 08:06 AM

Very underrated. I'd reccomend any casual fan to buy it just for Free City Rhymes though.

deflinus 08.31.2007 02:20 PM

Personally i find Kim's voice in Nevermind (What Was It Anyway?) to be incredibly seductive and sexy.

pbradley 08.31.2007 02:26 PM

If there is one SY album that I need to reassess more, than it would have to be this one. I first heard it after listening to Sonic's less abstract stuff and was entirely put off. But now that I thoroughly enjoy Confusion Is Sex, Kill Yr Idols, etc, I feel as though I now have the right context in which I can approach it. Too bad I don't have the album.

Daddylikes 08.31.2007 04:16 PM

Hahaha. It was my fave from the beginning.

Ironically enough...or un ironically...the total album time is palindromic...


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