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CATHOLIC, CATHARTIC : CHECK LIST: **** Great Balls of Fire, *** Good Vibrations, ** Maybe Baby, * Running on Empty

July 05, 1987|STEVE HOCHMAN

*** 1/2"SISTER." Sonic Youth. SST. "Beautiful confusion," a phrase from the song "Kill Time," is as good a description of this New York quartet's music as there is. This album of art-damaged, Iggy Pop-grounded rock sprung from Catholic psyches ("I cross myself, it doesn't help," sings Thurston Moore on "White Cross"), is willfully tense and disorienting yet wonderfully--and very sensually--cathartic.

Musically, "Sister" is a further refinement of the style established with 1985's "Bad Moon Rising" and perfected on last year's "Evol." Rather than using bridges to get the songs from A to B, Sonic Youth generally plunges the listener into chasms of guitar feedback and/or rhythmic shapelessness with dizzying effect before restoring any sense of order.

And just when that pattern is firmly established, the band stunningly reverses itself on "Pacific Coast Highway"--in which Kim Gordon's smoky, frantically lustful speak-sing is abruptly interrupted by a relatively tranquil instrumental not far removed from Fleetwood Mac's old "Albatross." And to spice things up further, that is followed by a purely celebratory version of the early San Francisco punk band Crime's "Hot Wire My Heart." Often disturbing, always captivating.

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