Our next match-up in the indie rock region I see as being quite similar to one of those #8 vs. #9 games on which it is impossible to make an even remotely educated guess as to the possible winner because the two make for such an odd pairing. I had a very difficult time comparing these two albums because they are such polar opposites. The Shins are one of those dribble drive motion teams a la Memphis who just slash and kick in perpetual movement and can be a hell of a good time to watch. Sonic Youth however are one of those grind it out Bo Ryan Wisconsin Badger teams that you do all those little, subtle, things that aren't so readily apparent on TV.
For starters, despite being their fifth studio album, Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation established the fuzzy, part grunge, part punk, part stoner rock aesthetic that persists on even their most experimental material to this very day. Daydream Nation definitely takes more effort than Chutes Too Narrow. The bits of straight forward neo-punk snarl always seem to devolve quickly into the beautiful muck and mire of guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo's noisescapes. This album is like running a tough technical trail... occasionally you'll burst into a clearing and you feel that sense of ease and calm that always lures you into a false sense of ease right before the trail devolves into a crush of woods, rocks, and vines. The key to enjoying this album, and the point where it really shines, is being able to appreciate the complexity and order of those tangled masses of guitar sludge and noise. Once you do this, then those moments of pop bliss driven by Moore's sarcastic, fuck-if-i-care vocals and wife Kim Gordon's sultry yet slightly uncertain voice work are all the more beautiful and welcome.
Chutes Too Narrow on the other hand benefits from the fact that it takes almost no effort, particularly for those mopey masses of nerdy, hipster wannabes, who are desperately searching for a manic pixie dream girl* of their own. Due in part to their prominent placement on the Garden State soundtrack, this album was one of the most successful indie rock albums since another timeless Sub Pop Records release, Nirvana's Bleach. Listening to it, it's hard to argue with the relatively widespread embrace of this album. The melodies are evocative of Rubber Soul and while the album does not compare ALL THAT strongly in terms of overall greatness with the British Invasion Region #1 seed it's also not as far away as you'd think. Standout tracks like "Saint Simon" and "Kissing the Lipless" are Thomas Beckett songs** are just so easy to love and are the kind of songs that you hum all day without once thinking, "damn I wish I'd get this song out of my head." Just listen to the guitar solo from about the 2:10 point to the 2:27 point in "Saint Simon" and try not to fall in love with this album.
In the end though, it's that exact EASE of Chutes Too Narrow that makes it really hard to give it the nod over Daydream Nation in this matchup. Sonic Youth make you work just enough so that when you're done with their work you feel like you've really done something and while this isn't necessarily a sign of great music, in this case it serves to break a tie between two great albums.
Daydream Nation will square off against In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in Round Two
* This article is a MUST read for anyone who considers themselves even mildly pop culturally aware
** Songs for All Seasons.. HOO AH for that history reference