Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Album: Demolished Thoughts
Release date: May 24, 2011
Rating: ******** (8/10)
Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth's good-natured wild boy, has an impressive diversity of output. The tonal/atonal experimentation of Sonic Youth as well as the band's more straight-forward pop and punk moments, free jazz and noise with various avant garde collaborators and hushed folk as a solo artist. The content of Demolished Thoughts, an acoustic album produced by Beck, is not a shock. It's acoustic guitar and Thurston's frank, boyish voice, surrounded by a fair amount of orchestration and nuanced arrangements. What is slightly surprising is that it's this good.
Demolished Thoughts may not surpass Moore's previous best solo efforts (i.e. 1995's Psychic Hearts and 2007's Trees Outside the Academy). Then again, maybe it does. It's really good. Every song is beautifully written, every voice is carefully arranged and masterfully mixed.
Moore can pull off some cheesy stuff, like a dang harp on several tracks, because everything about the songs is unassuming. His voice is plain and conversational and might make you wonder what sort of lullabies Moore sang his daughter when she was a baby. It's a lullaby voice because it sounds more personal than performed but it's not a raw, soul-baring jumble of personal trauma like Neutral Milk Hotel or Will Oldham. It's just songs, sung by Moore, for you.
Moore's tone aside, though, it's not all lullaby fare. The lyrics hint at a dark (if loving) sexuality and while the songs are comforting, they also point towards the dark things that cause a need for comfort. The opening track sets the tone for the album, a gentle, reassuring folk song that sounds as though it was written to bring peace to a troubled loved one. But there's also something darker there; the lyrics rather cryptically warn, "You better hold your lover down / and tie him to the ground."
A few tracks are even as anxiety-ridden as Sonic Youth (only acoustic). "Circulation" is the clearest example with it's dark layers of sound, contrasting traditionally pretty string parts with unsettling noise and tense guitar that subtly strays from the key and gives the sense that something is wrong. The minor-modal "Mina Loy" is even a bit ominous.
The high point of the album is probably the seven minute "Orchard Street," which twists like the sweetest of folk music has been refracted and misinterpreted. The entire album exists like this, though, suspended in the space between the pure 60's folk it recalls and the atonal raw nerves of Thurston's other music. It invites you in, but once you're in there, you will find yourself disoriented. And as you feel the music protecting you from danger, you may find it was the album that put the danger so close to begin with. At once simple and perplexing, comforting and haunting, earthy and otherworldly - and it proves that this boyish 50-something still has some tricks up his sleeve, some thirty years after he first started reinventing popular music.