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Sister (Sonic Youth album)

Studio album by Sonic Youth
Released June 1987
Recorded 1987
Studio Sear Sound, New York, United States
Genre Noise pop, art rock
Length 42:49
Label SST
Producer Sonic Youth
Sonic Youth chronology
Singles from Sister
  1. "Cotton Crown (bootleg)"
    Released: September 1993

Sister is the fourth studio album by American alternative rock band Sonic Youth. It was released in June 1987 by record label SST. The album furthered the band's move away from no wave towards more traditional song structures, while maintaining an aggressively experimental approach. The album was reissued in 2011 on 180-gram purple-marble vinyl.

Like Sonic Youth's previous records, Sister wasn't very successful at the time, but garnered critical praise later on in their career. Slant Magazine called it "the last great punk album of the Reagan era, and the first great pop album to emerge from the American underground";[1] The magazine listed Sister at No. 72 in its list of the best albums of the 1980s.[1] Pitchfork listed Sister as the 14th best album of the 1980s.[2]


  • Background and recording 1
  • Music and lyrics 2
  • Packaging 3
  • Release and promotion 4
  • Critical reception 5
  • Track listing 6
  • Personnel 7
  • Release history 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Background and recording

Sonic Youth released their third album, EVOL, in October/November 1986. During the tour of the album, the band began writing material for a new album ("White Kross" had been written earlier, circa May 1986). Sister was recorded to 16-track in March and April 1987 with Walter Sear at Sear Sound, entirely on analog tube equipment, giving it its characteristic "warm", vintage feel.[3][4]

Sister is a loose concept album (like its follow-up Daydream Nation). Sister was in part inspired by the life and works of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The original titles for the album were Kitty Magic, Humpy Pumpy and Sol-Fuc,[3] but it was named Sister as a reference to Dick's fraternal twin, who died shortly after her birth, and whose memory haunted Dick his entire life.[5] "Sister" was also the original title for "Schizophrenia", and Thurston Moore often introduced it as "Sister".[6]

Music and lyrics

According to Sputnikmusic's Adam Downer, Sister deviated from the frenetic sound of Sonic Youth's previous music in favor of a refined style of noise pop that would typify the band's subsequent work.[7] The album features aggressive noise songs such as "White Kross" and "Catholic Block", as well as a menacing noir ode, "Pacific Coast Highway", although it also featured more traditional song structures. Some of the lyrics on "Schizophrenia" were originally written for early song "Come Around" ("Your future is static, It's already had it/But I got a hunch, it's coming back to me").[8] "Sister" was the original title for "Schizophrenia", and a live recording of the song from June 4, 1987 at The Town and Country Club in London was released on the B-side of a bootleg 7" single under the title "Sister". The A-side featured their cover of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with Iggy Pop.[6] Both tracks from the single were later issued on the DVD portion of Screaming Fields of Sonic Love.

The band used acoustic guitars on some songs on the album for "melodic" purposes, one of the first being "(I Got A) Catholic Block".[9] Another was "Beauty Lies in the Eye", which used three or four guitars.[10] "Pipeline/Kill Time", sang by Ranaldo, was written on April 5, 1987, although several lyrics were not included in the final song.[11] "Tuff Gnarl"'s working titles were "Sea-Sik" and "Smart and Fast", but the band ultimately decided to call it "Tuff Gnarl", inspired by the line "He's running on a tuff gnarl in his head". Mike Watt covered the song on his album Ball-Hog or Tugboat? with Sonic Youth members Moore, Ranaldo and Steve Shelley performing it with him.[12] For the eighth song on the album, the band covered Crime's song "Hotwire My Heart". "Kotton Krown" (or "Cotton Crown") was the first Gordon and Moore duet, although Moore usually sang it during live performances.[13] The last song on the album, "White Kross", was the oldest song on the album and was featured on an NME 7". On the band's 1987 European tour, they extended the song, adding five or six minutes of white noise at the end; this outro was later named "Broken Eye".[14]


The artwork of the original front cover contained a photograph of 12-year-old Sandra Bennett, taken by Richard Avedon on August 23, 1980,[15] but it was censored for later releases after a threat of a lawsuit.[16] At first the picture was merely covered up with a black sticker, but on later pressings it was removed, only showing a black area. Similarly, a photo of Disney's Magic Kingdom on the back cover was later obscured by a UPC code.[16] Very early promotional posters and pressings of the album did feature these photos, but later ones did not.

Release and promotion

Sister was released in June 1987 by SST Records (US) and Blast First (UK) on vinyl, CD and Cassette. After its release, the band began their European tour, during which a part of the Master=Dik EP was recorded at a radio session in Geneva. They toured the US in September and October, replacing their usual encores of "Hotwire My Heart" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" with four Ramones covers. The recording of the concert the band played on October 14 in Chicago was officially released as Hold That Tiger.[17]

Videos were shot for "Beauty Lies in the Eye" and "Stereo Sanctity". The black-and-white "Stereo Sanctity" video, featuring clips of whirring factory machinery and brief live shots of the band, can only be seen on a rare 1980s SST video compilation titled Over 35 Videos Never Before Released. The band didn't release an official single from the album, but a bootleg single of "Cotton Crown" was issued in 1993.[18]

Critical reception

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic [19]
Chicago Tribune [20]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music [21]
Los Angeles Times [22]
MusicHound 5/5[21]
Q [23]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide [24]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 9/10[21]
Sputnikmusic 5/5[7]
The Village Voice A[25]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau called Sister an album that is finally worthy of the band's aesthetic and felt that, while they have learned to temper their absent-minded musings and penchant for "insanity", their guitar sound is still "almost unique in its capacity to evoke rock and roll without implicating them in a history few youngish bands can bear up under these days."[25] In a negative review, Spin magazine said that the band fails to successfully mix their previous "nonsense" with "real rock tunage", as the more tempered musical approach lacks riffs and leaves their ideas sounding poorly thought-out.[26] The album was voted the 12th album of the year in The Village Voice‍ '​s annual Pazz & Jop critics poll for 1987.[27] Christgau, the poll's creator, ranked it fifth on his own list.[28]

In his retrospective review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called the album "a masterpiece" and "one of the singular art rock records of the '80s, surpassed only by Sonic Youth's next album, Daydream Nation."[19] Slant Magazine called it "the last great punk album of the Reagan era, and the first great pop album to emerge from the American underground."[1] Pitchfork Media listed Sister as the 14th best album of the 1980s.[2] NME rated it No. 80 in their list of the greatest albums ever, and No. 37 in their list of the 50 greatest albums of the 1980s.[29] In July 1995, Alternative Press magazine voted Sister the third best album of the decade spanning 1985–1995.[30] Slant Magazine listed the album at No. 72 in its list of the best albums of the 1980s.[1]

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Sonic Youth (Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley), except as indicated. 

No. Title Writer(s) Lyrics/vocals Length
1. "Schizophrenia"     Gordon, Moore 4:38
2. "(I Got A) Catholic Block"     Moore 3:26
3. "Beauty Lies in the Eye"     Gordon 2:20
4. "Stereo Sanctity"     Moore 3:50
5. "Pipeline/Kill Time"     Ranaldo 4:35
6. "Tuff Gnarl"     Moore 3:15
7. "Pacific Coast Highway"     Gordon 4:18
8. "Hot Wire My Heart" (Crime cover) Johnny Strike Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo 3:23
9. "Kotton Krown[1]"     Gordon, Moore 5:08
10. "White Kross[2]"     Moore 2:59


Sonic Youth

Release history

Region Date Distributing Label Format
US, UK June, 1987 SST Records, Blast First Vinyl, CD, Cassette
Brazil 1989 Stileto Vinyl
US, Europe 1994 DGC, Geffen CD, Cassette
UK 1996 Mute vinyl
US 2011 ORG Music Purple marble vinyl


  1. ^ This track was named "Kotton Krown" on the CD/LP label on the original SST/Blast First release, but was named "Cotton Crown" on the DGC reissue and subsequent Blast First releases and in the booklets in all releases.
  2. ^ This track was named "White Kross" on the CD/LP label on the original SST/Blast First release, but was named "White Cross" on the DGC reissue and subsequent Blast First releases and in the booklets in all releases.


  1. ^ a b c d "Best Albums of the 1980s | Music | Slant Magazine".  
  2. ^ a b "Staff Lists: Top 100 Albums of the 1980s | Features | Pitchfork".  
  3. ^ a b c "Sonic Youth Sister". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Kot, Greg; Leland, John; Sheridan, David; Robbins, Ira; Pattyn, Jay. " :: Sonic Youth".  
  5. ^ Browne, David (June 2, 2009). Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth. Da Capo Press.  
  6. ^ a b "Sonic Youth Schizophrenia". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Downer, Adam (April 21, 2007). "Review: Sonic Youth - Sister".  
  8. ^ "Sonic Youth Come Around". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  9. ^ "Sonic Youth Catholic Block". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  10. ^ "Sonic Youth Beauty Lies in the Eye". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  11. ^ "Sonic Youth Pipeline/Kill Time". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  12. ^ "Sonic Youth Tuff Gnarl". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  13. ^ "Sonic Youth Kotton Krown". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "Sonic Youth White Kross". Retrieved 11 May 2013. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b "SISTER". SONICYOUTH.COM. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  17. ^ "Sonic Youth Sister". Retrieved 12 May 2013. 
  18. ^ "Sonic Youth Cotton Crown". Retrieved 12 May 2013. 
  19. ^ a b  
  20. ^ Kot, Greg (September 27, 1992). "The Evolution Of Sonic Youth".  
  21. ^ a b c "Sister".  
  22. ^ Hochman, Steve (July 5, 1987). "Catholic, Cathartic".  
  23. ^ "Review: Sister".  
  24. ^ "Sonic Youth: Album Guide".  
  25. ^ a b  
  26. ^ "Spin-Offs".  
  27. ^ "The 1987 Pazz & Jop Critics Poll". The Village Voice (New York). March 1, 1988. Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  28. ^ Christgau, Robert (March 1, 1988). "Pazz & Jop 1987: Dean's List". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved July 23, 2013. 
  29. ^ Greates Albums of 60's 70's & 80's"NME" Retrieved October 15, 2012. 
  30. ^ .."Alternative Press" Retrieved October 15, 2012. 

External links

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