Clash (magazine) - "[T]he seven tracks here are all deep explorations of a root fear, using repeated refrains and slowly-developing layers as motifs to create pulse-quickening tension. This is Sonic Youth at its most meditative and considered..."
Audio Mixers: Aaron Mullan; Lee Ranaldo; Steve Shelley.
Liner Note Authors: Lee Ranaldo; Thurston Moore.
Recording information: Spinhead Studios, North Hollywood, CA (1986).
Like Smart Bar: Chicago 1985, Spinhead Sessions is another fascinating document from the years between Sonic Youth's no wave beginnings and their time as college and alt-rock titans. Named for the studio in which they were recorded, Spinhead Sessions collects 1986 rehearsals for their music for Ken Friedman's dark, cross-country road movie Made in USA. They're markedly different from the finished score, which was released in 1994 by Rhino Records. The band embarked on this project after releasing the haunting EVOL, and while Made in USA nodded to that album, it often felt curtailed and slick, sending up budding indie rock clichés with an irony the band used more artfully on its '90s albums. By contrast, Spinhead Sessions goes deeper into EVOL's sullen mix of chaos and dead calm: the lumbering beat and brittle guitar harmonics on "Theme with Noise" could be the mirror twin of "Tom Violence." However, Sonic Youth uses a more limited palette than they did on either EVOL or Made in USA to conjure the promise and menace of the open road on these dark, expansive tracks. On songs such as the nearly 17-minute-long opener "Ambient Guitar & Dreamy Theme," feedback, drones, and wind chimes evoke the faint but persistent smoke of Centralia, Pennsylvania, where a coal mine fire has burned for decades and the film's journey begins. The band allows these elements to float, sink, and collide at will throughout Spinhead Sessions: "High Mesa," for example, begins with a tumbling rhythm, then quickens into what could be the backdrop for a chase scene before coalescing into low-slung rock. Even shorter tracks such as the implosive "Scalping" and "Unknown Theme" and lighter cuts like "Wolf" and "Theme 1 [Take 4]" maintain this shadowy, searching quality, and take the experiments of this era to a logical extreme. As hypnotic as Spinhead Sessions is, its tracks may have been too attention-getting in their own right to be used as a film score. Nevertheless, it's something of a gold mine for fans of Sonic Youth's mid-'80s output, which was some of the most challenging and beautiful music of their career. ~ Heather Phares
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