Sonic Youth, "Expressway to Yr. Skull (Radio Edit)" (Sonic Youth Archive)

Now that they're history, Sonic Youth can excavate the obscure corners of their back catalog and archives for easy money on which to retire (or not, as the case may be). One recent example was the excellent rarities collection In/Out/In (2022, Three Lobed). Another is the legendary 1986 bootleg Walls Have Ears, which is finally getting an official release on February 9, 2024.

The 18-track double LP captures the influential noise rockers in a period of raw brilliance and exploratory noisiness: a 1985 UK tour on which they aired tracks from early classics such as Confusion Is Sex, Bad Moon Rising, EVOL, and the Sonic Youth mini album, plus non-LP songs such as the scathing "Kill Yr. Idols" and the seething "Flower."

Sonic Youth's repertoire at this point included greater unpredictability and structural recklessness than in their later works; they hadn't yet become the well-oiled, distorto-riff machine that emerged on 1988's Daydream Nation and subsequent major-label releases. Instead, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo were laying the groundwork for maniacally warped and invasive guitar tones from which decades of adventurous rockers have drawn inspiration.

On Walls Have Ears, we get two versions of the "Death Valley '69," the closest Sonic Youth came to an anthem in those early years; it's as apocalyptic an expression of made-in-America murderousness as we're ever likely to get. "Speed JAMC" is a snide "homage" to Jesus and Mary Chain, the upstart Scottish noise-rockers who were garnering major media buzz at the time. Tracks such as "Making the Nature Scene," "Flower," "Brother James," and "Ghost Bitch" display bassist Kim Gordon's voice at its scariest and most guttural.  

The first emphasis track from Walls Have Ears, "Expressway to Yr. Skull (Radio Edit)" exemplifies Sonic Youth's predilection for imaginative sprawl and extreme dynamics. The song begins with one of SY's most triumphant fanfares, as Moore drawls a sacrilegious slag of the Beach Boys' mythologizing of Golden State women: "We're gonna kill the California girls/We're gonna find the exploding load in the milkmaid maidenhead/We're gonna find the meaning of feeling good." When he gets to the climactic refrain of "expressway to your skull," the band explodes into rapturous chaos on the final word. All that can follow after this orgasmic blast are nearly five minutes of bass rumble, distant guitar tintinnabulation, and cymbal spray. The long coda's at once strangely soothing and oddly ominous. It sounds like a kind of solemn atonement for all the violence that had preceded it. 

mega cat, "Rat Fight" (Share It Music)

Mega cat are a newish Seattle trio featuring Aaron Benson (drums, guitar, percussion), Kim West (piano, synthesizer), and Ryan Devlin (bass, guitar). The latter two musicians also play in Smokey Brights, whose genial, Adult Oriented Rock will not prepare you for mega cat's more outward-bound sounds. ("Is this Counting Crows?" my partner asked as I was playing Smokey Brights' 2023 album, Levitator, the other night.)

The band's self-titled debut album—due for release on February 16, 2024—bears no vocals and comes across as an aspiring library-music record... a great and rare thing in the local scene. (See also Gel-Sol and Sean Wolcott for like-minded excursions into the cinematic and groovy end of the library-music spectrum in our region.) 

Throughout the LP, mega cat prove they got the funk. "Celebrate With Port!" peddles methodical funk in the vein of Annette Peacock's "Pony." "Don't You Ever Get the Creeps?" offers thoroughly modern-sounding funk à la L'Eclair, with a suavely warped keyboard riff that elevates the track to sublime status. The cinematically expansive "Good Newts" laces its funk with complex beats, fascinating textures, and oblique nods to afrobeat. "KRA1 (Origin Story)" lays back in the cut like a Pacific Northwest Khruangbin. 

On the two-part "Ballad of Sarah Connor," mega cat enter the eerily contemplative realm of Alain Goraguer's La Planète Sauvage soundtrack. The first part features phenomenal hand-percussion tones and seductive rhythms, a bass line that curls around your limbs like vines, and melancholy xylophone motifs. The second part's a wonderfully morose power ballad, without the vocals. 

Inspired by an actual rodent battle that occurred on West and Devlin's neighbor's lawn, "Rat Fight" stands as the album's funkiest cut and most suspenseful. The track exists in the exalted realm of KPM Records library music that's geared for movie thrillers and tense scenes in TV cop shows, thanks to Doppler-effected horn stabs, humid bongo slaps, loopy flute, a Mission: Impossible-like 5/4 rhythm, and Saharan desert-rock guitar. If you will allow this bit of self-promotion, I would definitely play this at my Obscenely Obscure DJ night... and in many other contexts, to boot. 

Mega cat's record release show happens March 2, 2024 at Sunset Tavern.