This is from Rolling Stone's Top 100 albums of the 1980's. "Daydream Nation" comes in at number 45. By comparison, "The River" comes in at 86.
Best off of the album, and probably their best song, is "Teenage Riot". Everything you want to know about Sonic Youth is in that song.
The trailblazing quartet has made its mark by exploring the rough edges that other bands smooth over, bolstering its experiments in sound with the raw power of a top-flight rock & roll band. Daydream Nation refined everything that made Sonic Youth the most powerful and innovative American guitar band of the Eighties and channeled it into a seventy-one-minute, double-album tour de force. The band's guitarists, Moore and Lee Ranaldo, harnessed an idiosyncratic vocabulary of overtones, harmonics, drones and feedback to create vast sounds and textures unlike anything else in rock.
Daydream Nation is very much of the place where it was created, articulating the chaos and violent energy of the band's New York City. "The structures of Daydream Nation were really worked on a lot," says bassist-vocalist Kim Gordon, and sure enough, beneath the music's teeming surface is a Byzantine barrage of spine-tingling riffs and dynamic peaks and valleys fueled by drummer Steve Shelley.
The band's lyrics tend toward a stream-of-collective-unconscious grab bag of underground culture, including erotica, grade-Z horror flicks and cyberpunk science fiction. "Hit the power/Psycho helmet's on/You've got to splice your halo/Take it to the moon," Moore sings in "Silver Rocket," as the song's raw punk thrust explodes in a shower of pure, exultant noise.
Although the largely self-produced Daydream Nation was recorded for a paltry $30,000, that was twice as much money as the band had spent on any of its five other albums. According to Gordon, the extra production bucks "gave power to the songs. It's like buying credibility."
"Providence," one of the album's most interesting tracks, is a quiet interlude for phone machine, piano and one abused amplifier. "It was a fan-cooled amplifier," Moore says, "and I had put something on the fan, so the tubes were suffocating and created this panicky rumble coming out of the speakers. So we recorded that and made it into a song." A friend of the band's, Mike Watt of the group Firehose, contributed a phone message from Providence, Rhode Island, scolding Moore for losing some guitar cables and insinuating that his short-term memory was shot. "It's about smoking pot," Moore explains.
Moore says the band originally wanted to call the album Bookbag and package it in a plaid schoolbook tote, an idea scrapped only because of its expense. Instead, the band opted for a simple painting of a candle by German artist Gerhard Richter. "We wanted to use something that was outwardly conservative looking, just because people wouldn't expect that," Gordon says. "The most radical things outwardly look very conservative."
Both Ranaldo and Moore are veterans of downtown noise maestro Glenn Branca's guitar orchestras. The massed guitars and colossal dissonances of those groups still figure in Sonic Youth's sound, although Moore doesn't quite see it that way: "I mean, he's into the harmonic series, we're into the TV series." Moore would rather compare his band to the early-Seventies New York grunge rockers in the Godz, whom rock critic Lester Bangs once lovingly described as "the most inept band I've ever heard." "We come straight out of them," Moore says. "If you can find The Third Testament, by the Godz, that's a great record."
Daydream Nation received overwhelmingly positive reviews from contemporary critics. Billboard called it "the supreme fulfillment" of the band's "fullbore technique". Rolling Stone magazine's Robert Palmer said it demonstrated "the broad harmonic palette, sharply honed songwriting skills and sheer exhilarating drive" of the "influential quartet", while presenting "the definitive American guitar band of the Eighties at the height of its powers and prescience". In The Village Voice, Robert Christgau believed that while Sonic Youth were embracing a "happy-go-lucky careerism and four-on-the-floor maturity", their relentlessly discordant music was "a philosophical triumph". The British music press also embraced the album: Record Mirror enthusing that Sonic Youth were "the best band in the universe"; the NME calling Daydream Nation the "most radical and political album of the year"; and Q magazine saying it made an "enthralling noise". At the end of 1988, Daydream Nation appeared in several lists of the year's best albums, being ranked at No. 2 by Rolling Stone, No. 1 by CMJ, and No. 9 by NME. It was also voted the year's second best record in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop poll, which made the band realize that the album had made an impact. Christgau, the poll's creator and supervisor, named it the fourth best album of 1988 in his own list.
Daydream Nation has received extensive critical acclaim and numerous accolades since its release in 1988. According to Matthew Stearns, writer of the 33⅓ book dedicated to the album, it has been "resoundingly canonized as a breakthrough landmark in the chronicles of avant-rock expression". Stearns wrote that Daydream Nation comprised the "Holy Trinity" of early indie rock double albums with Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade and Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime, writing that the three works "together mark a period of unprecedented creative expansion in terms of the possibilities of underground (or otherwise) American rock music". In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine deemed it "a masterpiece of post-punk art rock" that demonstrated the degree of which "noise and self-conscious avant art can be incorporated into rock, and the results are nothing short of stunning". Jon Matsumoto of the Los Angeles Times called it the band's masterpiece and said they had developed first-rate songwriting skills to complement their penchant for dissonant instrumentation. Greg Kot, writing in the Chicago Tribune, called it one of the most recognizable albums of the 1980s with its combination of "hypnotic guitar jams and some of the band's best, straight-ahead tunes". Reviewing the 2007 deluxe edition, Christgau credited Daydream Nation for making alternative rock "a life force" and remarked that, along with the "vital" bonus disc, the album remained an honest and thrilling listen because of its musical tunings and anthemic songs about post-irony and "confusion-as-sex". In Spin, Will Hermes said it was perhaps "the greatest art-punk statement ever", while John Mulvey from Uncut called it a still radical "avant-rock masterpiece".
In 2002, Pitchfork ranked Daydream Nation as No. 1 on their list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s. It also placed at No. 13 on Spin magazine's list of the 100 greatest albums from 1985 to 2010, No. 30 on Slant Magazine's "Best Albums of the 1980s" and No. 45 on the Rolling Stone list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s. The Spin Alternative Record Guide (1995) named it the ninth best alternative album, and it was ranked 11th on Guitarist's 2000 list of the 101 essential guitar records. In 2003, the album was placed at No. 328 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums ever, and again in 2012. Daydream Nation was one of 50 recordings chosen by the Library of Congress to be added to the National Recording Registry in 2006. Kurt Cobain listed it in his top 50 albums of all time. PopMatters included it in their list of the "12 Essential 1980s Alternative Rock Albums" saying, it was "an ambitious double album that saw Sonic Youth's various influences coalescing into a striking, searing whole".