Sonic Youth: Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo (vocals, guitar); Kim Gordon (vocals, bass); Steve Shelley (drums).
Additional personnel: Walter Sear (programming).
Originally released on SST (134).
The blunt, chaotic sound of Sonic Youth's visionary but difficult early work had begun to give way to a more coherent and song-oriented attack on 1986's EVOL, and with 1987's Sister, Sonic Youth revealed that they were a great rock band as well as a great art band. From the shifting dynamics and disquieting mood of the opening track "Schizophrenia" to the ferocious coda of "White Cross," Sister was the work of a band that had grown impressively stronger and more unified in the 12 months since their previous long-player. The sheets of sound that issued from Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo's re-tuned and modified guitars were still the core of their sound, but Sonic Youth's songcraft was steadily improving as they made better and more effective use of their aural palette and created a melodic context that helped their noisy report make greater dramatic sense. After going through a handful of drummers, Steve Shelley finally gave Sonic Youth the combination of chops, imagination, and force that they needed behind the kit, and while he certainly improved EVOL (his debut with the group), it was Sister where he truly make his mark: the steady pulse and rhythmic shadings of "Catholic Block," "Stereo Sanctity," and "Tuff Gnarl" helped firm up the tunes and added some discipline to Moore and Renaldo's exploratory guitar work that, remarkably, made their twisted instrumental figures more impressive and no less distinctive. And the warmth and clarity of Bill Titus' all-analog engineering made the guitars (and Kim Gordon's bass) sound as glorious as they always deserved; while Sonic Youth had been a band with great ideas from the start, Sister was where the execution finally caught up with the concept, and it was their first truly great album. ~ Mark Deming
Drawing equally from punk rock and new-music pioneers such as John Cage and Glenn Branca (whom guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo both played with), Sonic Youth employed a palette of white noise that deconstructed punk-rock orthodoxy into radical new configurations. Seemingly the opposite of what major labels would want in a band, Sonic Youth inked a deal with Geffen records in the late 1980s and caught the ear of a certain mainstream listenership. With the release of their 16th proper studio album, RATHER RIPPED, in 2006, Sonic Youth secured their position as icons of underground and alternative culture.
Q (7/96, p.144) - 4 Stars - Excellent - "...The New Yorker's masterpiece....erased the more indulgent bits from EVOL and concentrated Sonic Youth's talent for gently tortured rock; an emotive, inventive pre-grunge..."
Alternative Press (p.200) - "[I]ts inventive arrangements and distressed guitar work are shockingly accessible-sounding..."
Alternative Press (7/95, p.75) - Ranked #3 in AP's list of the `Top 99 Of '85-'95' - "...The focus here wasn't clear, it was city blocks and bits of old farms tied together with broken guitar strings and awesome noise. The band were trying as hard as they could, and they got ultimate beauty both uncontrollable and irreplaceable..."
CMJ (1/5/04, p.20) - Ranked #13 in CMJ's "Top 20 Most-Played Albums of 1987"
Melody Maker (5/4/96, p.58) - "...The mid-period Sonic LPs, specifically SISTER and DAYDREAM NATION, are generally regarded as their most fully realised..."
NME (Magazine) (10/2/93, p.29) - Ranked #80 in NME's list of the `Greatest Albums Of All Time.'
NME (Magazine) (9/25/93, p.19) - Ranked #37 in NME's list of the `50 Greatest Albums Of The '80s.'