For all of his eccentricities and insane musical past (playing a guitar with a screwdriver? hammering nails into piano keys? teaching noise music to eight-to-12-year-olds?) Thurston Moore is, as odd as it might sound, in many ways a known quantity. He consistently offers insane, intense, interesting new wrinkles on a handful of different themes, but he’s not going to bust out an R&B opera anytime soon. (Please, please don’t assume any part of me hopes that changes.) So, an acoustic album is as close to left field for the legendary Sonic Youth frontman as we’re bound to see. It is for that reason that Demolished Thoughts feels like a rare beast, one bursting at the seams with ideas and energy.
Two big names seem to be circling this album, one directly, and the other indirectly. Beck sat in as producer for this record, making the Sea Change comparisons/connections inevitable. Simultaneously, longtime collaborator/friend/Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis recently released a solo acoustic record, and the two have an aggressive punk side project under the name Demolished Thoughts. But to assume that any single influence or inspiration propelled this would likely be a mistake. No matter how willing to collaborate or experiment he is, Moore is a singular, powerful voice, and any record he releases will indelibly be his.
Opening track “Benediction” is the cooing, cloud-like companion to The Eternal, light-strummed acoustic guitar and lush violin washes (courtesy of Samara Lubelski, who also helped on 2007’s Trees Outside the Academy) underscore lyrics about how he knows “better than to let her go.” On the other hand, occasional lyrics like “thunder demons swipe her halo, and then they run away” keep things from being too cutesy, instead obliquely wrapping things in that Moore-y weirdness.
The lilting, low-key “Illuminine” follows, Lubelski’s violin keeping things woodsy, warm. The track fades into a slippery drone, everything loping into a silvery sunset. The third bridge atmospherics and hard-edged vocal delivery on “Circulation” are reminiscent of so much Sonic Youth material, while the lithe, tamed violin lines are substituted for howling guitar and feedback. “Speakers forgive lies…She’s my here to stay,” Moore gruffly proclaims, nodding to the potential plasticity of so many love songs while simultaneously delivering his own. The shrill, noisy violin solo provides a sidelong glance at the stuff Moore is so comfortable with, adding an edge to the piece.
“Blood Never Lies” again relies on an interesting chord progression in which seemingly circular moments wrap themselves back to the song’s melody. The fragility is turned up, high-end harmonies and harp courtesy of Mary Lattimore taking the song the closest to folk territory that Moore may have found. In fact, the song may be the closest to Sea Changes, the whole thing swooning and crowing. The bass gets turned up for “Orchard Street”, the song rumbling and thudding on minimal percussion, the charming, insistent strumming keeping the song from stagnating. The song wraps itself in a chaotic blanket of icy harp octaves and slanted violin lines, the drumming building in intensity until everything slowly fades away.
The stunning “In Silver Rain With a Paper Key” may be the album’s standout, the stuttered guitar strumming, distant, reverberated harp, and faraway, psychedelic vocals coming together like a tragic tale told from the back of a deep cave. “I turn the corner and I see you fade,” Moore moans before unraveling more lines about a lost love. “Mina Loy” is another tale of a frustrated love, the off-putting, murder mystery chord progressions of the bridge providing a particularly striking moment. As the violin gets mixed into the blend, everything gets even eerier, Moore whispering about how he “found a diamond in the garden” and how she wants you to “love her without shame.”
The sweet, ethereal “Space” finds Moore “cruising galaxies in search of gold” and trying to meet aliens, ostensibly. “January” ends the album, bringing him back down to earth. The song retains the cold morning light, the folksy acoustic world coming together in a haze. This is undeniably a Thurston Moore album, in the end. It takes the acoustic tendencies of his last solo record and turns them to 11. The outdoor ethereal-feel is strong, fluid, constant, but it seems to be aching for more of Moore’s intensity. His fragility, his strong, intriguing lyrics, his textural mastery are all on display, but something more biting seems missing.