For the first time in more than 30 years, Thurston Moore is moving forward in what could be a world without Sonic Youth. Sure, there were a few solo records, plenty of collaborations, and droves of oddball performances, but those always felt like icing on the SY cake. The promise of another Sonic Youth record has always hung over his head, but that might not be the case anymore.
Sonic Youth had a remarkable and prolific run, but news of what we have no choice but to call a hiatus last spring hit fans hard. Unfair as it may be to mourn the loss of a band that’s been run through the mill for more than three decades, there was a sense that maybe the magic might go on forever. The band’s swan song, 2009’s The Eternal, was filled with as much cranky guitar noise and artful drudgery as anything they’d ever done, leaving the door open for more beautiful noise for years to come.
Sadly, that might not be the case, but Moore hasn’t wasted much time picking up the pieces. We now have the self-titled debut from Chelsea Light Moving, which, depending on how you look at it, finds the indie hero either coping nicely with the coma of his longtime outfit or struggling to move on.
Moore, joined here by bassist Samara Lubinski, guitarist Keith Wood, and drummer John Moloney, is still locked into his old ways, and the record alternates between rigorous guitar thrash and more delicate art rock and jazz influences. But there’s a volatile undercurrent to the songs, from the low-fi guitar fuzz to Moore’s dark vocals. It’s easy to suspect that Moore’s personal ups and downs had a hand in shaping the album’s terse temperament, and the record affirms the sleeping art school brat that’s always burned inside him.
“Heavenmetal” opens the record on a low-key note of lightly strummed guitar, plucky bass, and Moore’s whisper-spoken vocals. But the gentle introduction only serves to ease listeners into an otherwise cathartic indie rock roller coaster ride. “Sleeping Where I Fall” quickly unlocks the type of angular chords that anchored so many of Sonic Youth’s best moments, and the vibe turns turbulent from there. Moore’s guitar on “Alighted” quivers nervously before delving into a bottom-heavy slab of sludge rock, while “Empires Of Time” follows close suit, shifting between high register timber and scuzzy, Sabbath-infused stoner metal. And while Moore has always refined his scruffy, underground edge with high-brow sonic touches, “Burroughs” matches the most upfront punk rock moments he’s had in his career.
And if the music is decidedly grizzled, Moore is equally snot-nosed and disgruntled on the lyrical front. “Lip” angrily chugs along beneath the singer’s fuck-the-world refrain, while the free-associative poetry of “Mohawk” further heightens the record’s emotional intensity. Tension has always had a sizable role to play in Moore’s work, but Chelsea Light Moving takes that nervous energy to a much more personal place, and the record lifts his high-strung sonic freak-outs to new heights of neurosis.
To be fair, Chelsea Light Moving isn’t Sonic Youth. Instead, the band (and, by extension, the album) plays like the menacing Jekyll to Sonic Youth’s Hyde, stewing angrily like the latter band’s bipolar brother on Adderall. Moore could have easily shifted gears and made a clean break from his storied noise rock past, but rather he digs in deeper, and at almost 55 years of age, he’s rarely sounded as in touch with his youthful pluck.
Essential tracks: “Heavenmetal”, “Empires Of Time”, and “Lip”