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The past, oh, month or so has been a complete musical regression to 1991-1995 for me. A few days of Bikini Kill followed by a few days of Hole. I blame this on PJ Harvey. I was really excited about the release of her collaboration with John Parish, but A Woman A Man Walked By was wildly disappointing, and highlighted for me a lot of the criticisms that are thrown at Harvey–criticisms, by the way, I’d never really agreed with until this record. But if there was such a thing as a paint-by-numbers PJ Harvey song, they existed in appalling frequency on this record.

Part of the disappointment of A Woman A Man Walked By is due to my appreciation of Harvey and Parish’s previous collaboration, Dance Hall at Louse Point, a record I previously described as being “a less-cacophonous (though still really noisy!) Sonic Youth record except with someone who can actually carry a tune.” And then this happened, talk about kismet! Every reaction I’ve ever had about Sonic Youth can be summed up by “Bull in the Heather,” by far my favorite SY song insofar as it sounds exactly what I want out of the band (or any rock band, for that matter) while also summing up exactly what I don’t want out of that band (or any rock band).

I love the sound of Sonic Youth, and what makes me love “Bull in the Heather” is the first thirty seconds–those absolutely filthy opening notes followed by the driving riff. It is one of my favorite thirty seconds of music in the entire 1990s, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with the age I was when this song came out, but it sonically captures post-puberty adolescence: all hormonal angst and burgeoning eroticism that is mysterious and terrifying but blatantly full of desire. It’s a shame that no one in this band can sing. And any kind of aural boner I get from the music in “Bull in the Heather” is immediately shrunken by that off-key ice queen singing about thrusting. Like following the perfect ass through the crowd only to have the person turn around looking horrendous. (And that video! Thurston feeding a banana to a horse? YUCK. Though it suggests that Kim Gordon has equine features, which is correct. And teenage hero Kathleen Hanna jumping around all annoying-like! Just throw a bucket of cold water onto my groin next time, thanks)

It’s a shame about Sonic Youth’s vocals, because there aren’t too many records that sound like them in the first place, capturing that waddayacallit–art rock New York post-punk deconstruction? In a way that sounds erotic and dirty and frightening and alluring, but with someone who can carry a tune or otherwise turn their voice into a fascinating sonic component. Which is why Dance Hall at Louse Point means what it does to me, with it’s slinkily loud guitar riffs supporting Harvey’s delicious melodramatics, as well as Hole’s Pretty on the Inside. I said I was listening to a lot of Hole, right? It’s no coincidence that Kim Gordon co-produced POTI, and Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson almost perfectly capture the guitar textures and driving riffs of Sonic Youth while under the influence of grindcore before shrinking in the face of Courtney Love’s inimitable scream. I wish there was more music like this.


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