Murray Street is Sonic Youth's 16th album since they came together in 1981. It is also the second album in their proposed trilogy about the cultural history of Lower Manhattan (following 2000’s langorous nyc ghosts & flowers). Many wise owls will note that it has something of a “new rock” sound, utilizing material that was worked out in live shows during 2001, and incorporating the textures of recent (overt) avant-garde explorations into a ragingly populist framework. Others just ask, “Zep, the Dead or Sparks? Who's on top now?”
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Murray Street was originally the northern edge Queen’s Farm, a parcel of land that was subsequently used as the site of King¹s College (1754), and then the original site of Columbia College (1787).
Murray Street is (ostensibly) named after the location of Sonic Youth’s studio, in which recording of this album was begun in August, 2001. Following the events of September 11, and the cordoning off the area where their instruments and master tapes were, the band laid low for a while. Sessions began again as soon as it was legally possible. Everything was dusty, but otherwise okay. Their first live show in the fall was a benefit organized by Thomas “Tom” Verlaine. No civilian vehicles were allowed on the block where the studio is located, so they had to take their passes and carry all their equipment out, past the barricades, to the extreme confusion of onlookers, who hadn’t realized that Ground Zero had a musical component.
Murray Street is where one of the engines from the planes that hit the Twin Towers landed (2001).
Murray Street is the first (though hopefully not the last) major label album to feature the massed saxophone work of Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich, best known as two-thirds of America’s most exquisite power trio, Borbetomagus. They play on “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style,” and if, back in the ‘80s, you would have postulated that this event would have come to pass, somebody would have surely spit in your eye.
Murray Street was one terminus of Beach’s Pneumatic Subway, which ran down Broadway from Warren Street to City Hall (1870-73). Interestingly, the other terminus is in the basement of guitarist Lee Ranaldo’s current abode.
Murray Street is the first full Sonic Youth album to include the all-out collaboration (writing, playing, dancing and producing) of Jim O’Rourke. O’Rourke, exhausted after a full night at NY Dolls (once thee place for Gotham’s Guitar Greats to enjoy a dance and a lap), was sleeping in the studio when the planes hit. You can ask him about the club, but not the aftermath. Please. And no, that wasn’t him, stuck in the studio 24/7, visible on the web cam that broadcast the full recording process. That was Techboy Tim. He never left the studio. But that was his choice. Not bondage.
Murray Street is the birthplace of Lionel Trains (1900).
Murray Street is perhaps best seen as a product of cooperative game theory. Like all Sonic Youth albums, it is a result of individuals, striving in a collectivist environment, for goals that are only understood once they are achieved. It is a brilliant evocation of the here and now, as well as the there and then. Its future unfolds like a petal-turned-tarpenny before us all.
--Byron Coley/Deerfield MA/2002
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