Rubicon Beach

Sonic Youth in Occupied America

In "The Ineffable Me," Gordon issues the gloriously bratty, wild-child warning, "Hey translator/You can't catch me." At the same time, it's an irresistible dare: to follow Alice into another world, a looking-glass film where she carjacks Chuck Berry's Airmobile and crashes into (or out of) Walter Benjamin's Arcades. A Thousand Leaves works as a soundtrack to such an imaginary movie, in keeping with the fact that some of the most indelible sequences in this decade's films have been structured around Sonic Youth's music: Elina Lowensohn and company dancing to "Kool Thing" in Simple Men, Maggie Cheung's breathtaking midnight drift to "Tunic" in Irma Vep. The idea--absurdia as genre, punk as late-show noir--isn't new, but goes back to early Sonic Youth touchstones like "Shadow of a Doubt." And one source for them is the half-forgotten 1980 Swell Maps record In "Jane From Occupied Europe": a murky, rattling dream of Second World War sagas turning into the political unconscious of so-called civilian life, a war that never really stopped but simply changed uniforms, insignias, and marching orders. (Essentially the sound of Thomas Pynchon's Paranoids if they'd parachuted behind the lines of Gravity's Rainbow.) Dispersed into the fabric of everyday life, the enemy becomes invisible, collaboration turns into the norm, and resistance assumes the aspect of a dream. Phantasm establishes the beachhead A Thousand Leaves claims: here's Sonic Youth in "Alice From Occupied America," poking around the underbelly of Wonderland, looking for whatever happens next...

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