Hits Are For Squares

  • Sonic Youth
  • Universal Music Group
  • 2011-10-31

Sonic Youth’s Hits Are For Squares is a curio of a compilation, previously only available through Starbucks stores in the US, though now getting a wider release. Its not a ‘Best of’ but a collection of tracks, curated by like-minded friends and acquaintances of the band from the arts community (artists, actors, directors and musicians) – Sonic Youth chose the people, the people chose the Sonic Youth tracks.

The resulting record spans the band’s career from 1983’s Confusion is Sex up to 2005’s Sonic Nurse, and displays a range of styles and approaches, not just in the overall chronological shift noticeable in the works from those two albums- from the no-wave-like stomp of “World Looks Red” (selected by Chloe Sevigny) to the clean-guitared, close-sung “Stones” (selected by Allison Anders) but in the mix of styles in between – such as “Tom Violence”’s raw, atmospheric, mid-pace pound (chosen by Gus Van Sant to “Teenage Riot”’s upbeat, Indie energy (chosen by Eddie Vedder), “Mary Christ”’s punk-rock work-out (chosen by David Cross) or “Superstar”’s blissful, fuzzy romanticism (chosen by Diablo Cody). The majority of it sits in an accessible enough camp though and several are single releases – no-one seems to be choosing works from Bad Moon Rising or Goodbye 20th Century – though this is not a bad thing as tracks like Dirty ‘s “100%” (Mike D), Goo ‘s “Disappearer” (Portia de Rossi), Murray Street’s “Rain on Tin” (Flea) and Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star’s “Bull in the Heather” (Catherine Keener), to name just a few, all offer great examples of how Sonic Youth have mastered mixing their artistic noisemongering sides with more straightforward alternative/indie rock. Often their best music displays the open tension between these elements with both threatening to cancel out the other but neither ever completely doing so – like Beck’s choice “Sugar Kane”’s distorted guitars, clashing verse riffs and mid-section noise build coupled with punchy beats and melodic chorus.

A load of great Sonic Youth tracks, and an interesting opportunity to think about what makes the track chooser’s tick.

Other tracks on the comp are Chuck D-starrer “Kool Thing” (selected by Radiohead), noise-rock-out classic “Tuff Gnarl” (selected by Minutemen Dave Eggers and Mike Watt), the reverb-drenched, poetic “Shadow of a Doubt” (selected by Michelle Williams) as well as “Slow Revolution”, a new track recorded exclusively for the compilation’s original release which offers clean instrumental amblings with a stronger, reverbed lead line and leftfield effected vocal murmurings, rounding things off nicely.

Without it being a Best Of there’s no point arguing over the inclusion or exclusion of particular songs – any compilation of a band of such importance and with such a weighty back catalogue is always going to cause debate and argument – so its worth enjoying the fact that Hits Are For Squares gives you a load of great Sonic Youth tracks, and an interesting opportunity to think about what makes the track chooser’s tick. Care to muse over Chloe Sevigny shaking like hell at some killer party? Or imagine sharing a moment on a late-night subway train with Michelle Williams? There’s more insight throughout (check the liner notes) but for some, that’s probably enough…

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