Confusion is Sex, released 1983, is the second album by New York art/noise/pop/punk band Sonic Youth.

Contained within are all the threads, references and tropes - rockist noise, wild poetry, off-kilter humor, blazing ferocity - that would earn the band a place in music history (hell, in 20th Century history.) Few recorded documents come close in terms of originality or intensity.

As intense and unsettling and bracing as it all is, it still doesn't represent the band as the height of its creative powers; it's not the band's "Exile On Main Street" or "Sgt. Pepper", in other words. That record - at least as far as the majority of critics are concerned - would have to wait another six years.

Confusion's nine tracks - eight originals and a feedback blowout that suddenly explodes into a Stooges cover - laid the groundwork for what the band would do for the next 20 years: Wild guitar experimentation, coupled with smart lyrics and a cooler-than-cool vibe. Guitarist Thurston Moore has said he thinks this album probably best represents what the band is about, in terms of wedding pop music with their relentless experimentation.

"Sonic Youth was going to extremes most other bands didn't know existed; in a certain way, they were issuing a challenge to the rest of pop music," the critic Greil Marcus wrote about the record some years later. "As things turned out, they pretty much had to answer it themselves."

The songs:

(She's In a) Bad Mood

Five and half minutes of pure isolation. "She's in a bad mood, but I won't fall for it. I believe all her lies, but I won't fall for it." Much more bleak when heard, over and over, in the midst of a clanging cacophony of guitars, climaxing at the end with a spiralling climb north that sounds, somehow, like it's heading for hell, not heaven.

Protect Me You

Wild guitars boing and twist like junkyard ghosts around Kim Gordon's voice, sounding for all the world like a 12-year-old about to suffer horribly from some unseen danger. It's easy to relate.

Freezer Burn / I Wanna Be Your Dog

Legend has it that "Freezer Burn" was recorded by engineer Wharton Tiers inside the walk-in fridge of a deli down the block from the studio. It feels compressed; low hums, high rattles, no "melody," just a soundscape of pure, unadulterated tension. You're expecting an explosion. But now matter how many times you listen to the album, you cannot predict the moment that the Stooges cover will burst from yr speakers. Kim Gordon's rendition leaves all others in the dust, including Iggy Pop's, and that doesn't just come from me; I had beers with Scott Asheton the other week and he was blown away after performing the song with her at the 2002 All Tomorrow's Parties festival in Los Angeles. He was a Stooge, for chrissakes, and she blew him away, 20 yrs after she first recorded it ... I didn't know from the Stooges when my buddy Dave and I happened upon Sonic Youth as 12-year-olds. This blew our minds, and we went tracing backward in time ... Where do these sorts of things come from? Where can we find more of this??? We became proficient shoplifters at the local Sam Goody; SST product wasn't moving as fast as Prince and Madonna, and so was consigned to the cutout bin in the front of the store, where the security was easily duped.

Shaking Hell

A minute of twitching menace, slowed down to another maelstrom, which evens out like the calm after the storm to let Gordon sing again. Theme: Boy vs. girl, prey vs. predator? "She's finally discovered she's a ... He told her so. Get closer and I'll tell you. Get closer and I'll take off yr dress ... I'll shake off yr flesh." Over and over, shake off your flesh ... Whatever is at work here, it's not good. And then, Gordon's shaking is backed up by a stuttering guitar. A madman? Fear, rendered audible?

Inhuman

Moore sings and plays the boneheaded fuzz bassline on this one: "My body is a past time, my mind is a simple joy!" The kind of cock-rock 23rd-Century aliens would play if they learned rock from listening to Wire and reading super-solipsistic poets.

The World Looks Red

Lyrics by Michael Gira of Swans, the other NYC-based band that was stirring up a ruckus in the early 80s with their super-loud performances in arty dives. "Push it away, the world looks red." Who can't relate to that kind of anger?

Confusion is Next

The closest thing to a Sonic Youth manifesto: "I maintain that chaos is the future and beyond it is freedom. Confusion is next and after that is the truth." The Situationists had nothing on Moore. Or maybe everything. To make the point, the song is punctuated with a snare shot at the end that sounds like a bullet headed for Reagan's lung. Or maybe Malcolm McLaren's.

Making The Nature Scene

Gordon raps her manifesto over a bass figure that underpins the wild guitar searchings like a slab of concrete, or Mingus through an Ampeg bass rig.

Lee Is Free

The first of a thousand Sonic Youth examples of just how far out you can get with a guitar; their first demonstration on the nature of possibility.

Resources:

http://www.sonicyouth.com
http://www.netspace.org/~leigh/sy/marcusaf.html
http://www.netspace.org/~leigh/sy/production.html
http://www.netspace.org/~leigh/sy/hell.html

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