Moore still manages to make every new album feel like a fresh start.
For Thurston Moore to put out an album named Rock n Roll Consciousness might sound like an alt-rock icon resting on his laurels, but his approach is anything but. In fact, the record sounds more like a demo, as though he’s auditioning for our ears for the first time.
Of course, given the nature of the man himself and the team of collaborators he’s assembled in recent years—James Sedwards of Nought, Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine and Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth—it’s more like a demo by the coolest band you’ve never heard of. At nearly 60 years of age, Moore still manages to make every new album feel like a fresh start.
For Moore, this is a blessing, since it allows him to make music that is blissfully unburdened by his considerable legacy. For the listener, it is a challenge in that it makes each album unplaceable and in many ways difficult to evaluate. Sure, it’s cool, but is it good? In this case, the short answer is yes.
Though he has always been associated with dissonance, having developed back in the days of No Wave, Moore’s value as a songwriter has typically resided in his uncanny command of traditional elements, namely song structure, rhythm and melody, selectively deploying chaos in order to chart his way out of it. He might be the guy who made “difficult” cool, who made punk “break,” as the 1992 Sonic Youth documentary puts it, but a cursory listen to his back catalogue will show that he’s always had tunes for days. Moore’s latest effort consists of five extended “sketches” that present a mystical, even sensual side to his songwriting. The first words of the album, from the track “Exalted,” set the tone (“She is the future”) and are followed by a series of lines evoking a feminine muse, a kind of oracular figure. Elsewhere he rhapsodizes about encounters with forces greater than himself—“I come believing in your light/ The sweet receiver in your mind,” he sings on the strongest track, “Turn On.” On the album’s concluding paean, “Aphrodite,” he refers to “My charismatic sorcerer” and later emotes, “Blinding sunlight, my heart is yours.” You’ve never heard Moore so blissed-out.
The guitar playing feels looser in ways that suggest a welcome confidence and lack of self-consciousness. The music takes its time, as on the opener, which only starts revealing itself a solid four minutes in—songs stretch from six to nearly 12 minutes in length. The rough-hewn soloing makes one think of J Mascis and Neil Young. There is also some refreshingly un-hip Knopflerian playing on “Smoke of Dreams,” and elsewhere there are moments that even have a bit of a Johnny Marr feel. The more dissonant moments, especially on the opener, recall Swans and, on the closing track’s squalls of sound, of Fun House-era Stooges.
Throughout the album, Sedwards shows himself to be a perfect match for Moore’s playing; Googe’s machine-gun bass inevitably recalls her band of origin, MBV, though it also provides melodic counterpoints to the guitars; and Shelley’s dependable drumming ranges from minimalist pulse to thundering swell throughout. And yes, there are plenty of unusual-sounding tunings and Moore’s trademark harmonics, which at one point even resemble steel pans. While “Cusp” doesn’t quite capitalize on the tension it builds up initially, “Turn On” conjures a gentler mood before letting loose and bearing the traces of Moore’s style—compelling changes of pace, syncopated rhythms and an innate sense of when and where to deploy noise.
Ultimately, the album’s greatest success is, however paradoxically, that it makes us forget about Moore and the past music he’s made and forces us to listen with fresh ears. The fact that, after all these years, he can still trick us into thinking that we’re hearing the “hot new thing” is a testament to the Peter Pan-like quality of his music, which matures but doesn’t seem to age.