Feel free to call Thurston Moore an old man. He may only be in his early 50s, but in rock star years, he’s closer to 70. Sure, you’ve still got your classics out and about still making music, your Paul Simons, your Bob Dylans and your Paul McCartneys, but they come so few and far between these days. It’s better to think of aging rock stars when they’re in a band, because the collective whole provides you with a stark legacy and a lack of focus on a particular individual. The last Sonic Youth record, for example, 2009’s “The Eternal”, did not seem like it came from a band that’s now officially 30 years old in and of itself without taking into account how old everyone was by the time they started. And while you have to essentially weigh any new stuff based on what came before it, we really only think of career highlights rather than the entire catalogue, particularly when dealing with 10+ records. In the case of Thurston Moore it’s even more, thinking about his already numerous solo efforts along with the Sonic Youth stuff. Perhaps the biggest and most pertinent question to be asking is how somebody like Moore can keep creating new music without surrendering to complacency or repeating the same old tricks. His new record “Demolished Thoughts” seeks to provide something close to an answer to that question.
One of the more interesting tidbits about “Demolished Thoughts” is that it was produced by Beck Hansen, otherwise known as simply Beck. He and Moore have never worked together before, and it’s a strange wonder as to why that is. It’s clear from this record that the combination of the two is an inspired pairing, and you can hear both of their influences present even if it is Moore doing all of the heavy lifting. The easiest and most favorable comparison you can make given the circumstances is to Beck’s “Sea Change”, a largely acoustic effort with small flourishes of orchestral beauty. There are even brief brushes of harp mixed in, and it is surprisingly graceful and oddly cohesive. And while most of the songs bear a quiet, almost folk-driven psychedelia (track lengths range from 4 minutes to nearly 7), there are moments of vigorous energy and sharp electric guitar. “Circulation” is naturally one of those tracks that gets your blood flowing, and it calls to mind a handful of old Sonic Youth cuts in the process. The same could be said for “Orchard Street”, though that’s more like a subdued acoustic rendition of an unreleased Sonic Youth song. Of course both those make perfect sense, as Moore also tends to save up tracks that are either rejected by or simply won’t quite work in his main band’s canon.
Just because a track isn’t moving along at a moderate pace doesn’t mean it lacks energy though. A song like “Blood Never Lies” glistens in the sunlight akin to a dew-covered flower at the start of a new day. The harps and strings on “Illuminine” create glowing pinpricks of light in an otherwise pitch black night. It’s the lush warmth that pulls that and many other songs on “Demolished Thoughts” out from the proverbial gutter of depression. An Elliott Smith album this is not, even if the topics of growing older and struggling to find happiness seem to permeate the highly poetic lyrics. What separates it out from your otherwise standard folk-indebted fare are the intelligent ways each song comes together to both acknowledge and destroy what we might otherwise expect from these genre tropes. Like how “Orchard Street” takes an extended instrumental detour for the entire last half of the song. Or maybe the way a light echo is applied to Moore’s voice on “In Silver Rain With A Paper Key” to better illustrate the loneliness and isolation the lyrics speak of. You’ve got to hand it to Beck, who most assuredly had something to do with these little extra touches that help turn very good songs into excellent ones.
It’s worth noting that most of Thurston Moore’s solo career has been of mixed to poor quality. He seems to use the time away from Sonic Youth as a testing ground or an idea dump, which has had a tendency to leave him seeming scatterbrained or incoherent. 2007’s “Trees Outside the Academy” was a lot like that, with a few solid songs smashed between a horde of attempts. There was no real theme or connection between the tracks, just sketch after sketch appearing to resemble something whole. That’s not to say it was a terrible record – in fact it was far from it. Compared with “Demolished Thoughts” though, it’s night and day. These new songs feel well thought out and purposeful, and though they may not be the most upbeat things, they never dwell too long in one darkened corner. It is actually one of the rare times a Moore solo record works on all pistons, giving a clear legitimacy to the venture and providing another outlet through which die hard Sonic Youth fans can get something of a fix. He may be getting up there in rock star years, but from the sound of it this “old guy” clearly has plenty of fight left in him.