13 Years Ago: Sonic Youth’s ‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’ Album Released
‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers,’ Sonic Youth’s 12th album, was shaped by several things. Since releasing their major-label debut 10 years before in 1990, the band had streamlined its sound, knocked it back around to its artsy/noisy origins and finally settled someplace in between. But they were getting antsy. But most of all, ‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’’ brutal, abrasive sound was a result of the group’s gear being stolen during a 1999 tour. They had to make the best with what they had laying around, what they purchased as replacements and what they could borrow.
The result is one of the group’s most disappointing and difficult records, a mess of noise and experimental sounds that pushes even the most devoted fans’ tolerance levels. It’s not a likable record, not even on the most art-for-art-sake level. The group’s beat poetry-influenced lyrics, always slightly annoying, work overtime on ‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers,’ showing just awful Sonic Youth could be when their hearts weren’t in it. And the music barely adds up to more than just distortion-laced exercises in seeing how much they can get away with.
Loaded with excessively long tracks – a couple top out at seven minutes, most clock in at five but seem way longer when you hear them -- ‘NYC Ghosts & Flowers’ sounds lazy and tossed off. The band doesn’t even seem to care what’s going on. The few songs that manage to stand out in the mess – Thurston Moore’s ‘Free City Rhymes,’ Kim Gordon’s ‘Nevermind (What Was It Anyway)’ – do so only because they seem to make a slight effort to not irritate listeners.
Unsurprisingly, the album took major hits all around. It was critically skewered almost across the board. Commercially, it made it to No. 172 before disappearing completely (the group’s preceding album, ‘A Thousand Leaves,’ debuted at No. 85). None of the songs received much airplay; ‘Nevermind’ was briefly considered for single release but eventually scrapped. But there’s good news at the end of all this: When Sonic Youth returned two years later with ‘Murray Street,’ they were pumped and primed again, firing off a string of great records that carried them through the end of the ‘00s.
Watch Sonic Youth's Video for ‘Nevermind (What Was It Anyway)’