Wednesday, November 21, 2007 • 1:32 PM Comments (3)

The new Thurston Moore CD, Trees Outside the Academy

posted by James Heflin

You can check out samples of this album here or here.

I've been a major Sonic Youth fan since somewhere around 1985, so I suppose I'm predisposed to like this one. It's clear very quickly that a lot of Sonic Youth's talky delivery has, not surprisingly, to do with Thurston's own penchant for it. Ditto the interesting turn Sonic Youth melodies often take at the end of a phrase, preferring a downward--I dunno, fifth?--to dip down to the last note. Which is all just to say there are some very familiar things here for Sonic Youth fans.

The strange and particular moodiness of Sonic Youth is present here, too, augmented in often lovely fashion by violin twining around Thurston's guitar. The combo of dissonance (or, as I heard Stephane Wrembel, one of the finest guitarists alive call it, "tanginess") and droniness is a centerpiece of what makes Sonic Youth's sound compelling, and for me, that distinctive sound is sometimes uncomfortably juxtaposed on Trees Outside the Academy with the very different guitar stylings of J. Mascis. Mascis can be a very interesting player, but sometimes seems to wander without a destination here. But at his best, as on the first track, "Frozen Gtr," Mascis' more single-note oriented leads weave an intriguing path that's a nice counterpoint to Thurston.

It is a real treat to hear what Thurston does in something resembling "singer/songwriter" mode. The result is in some ways reminiscent of more melodic Sonic Youth, as in Sister, and in some ways a new and different thing, kind of like a minimalist semi-acoustic setting given to more harmonically happy melodies and succinct lyricizing with a poetic bent. The album does keep you on your toes with some sudden departures into what sounds like Thurston becoming fascinated by the buzzing of a loose cable, and that's a fine thing--a complete immersion in singer/songwriter-ville would seem somehow wrong coming from such a noise master.

In short--this album is more interesting by half than most anything I've heard recently. It's a subtle and rewarding listen.

Comments (3)
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Thurston gets & takes a lot of credit for innovations in guitar technique that other people have been doing for years...the only other guitarist from the indy 80's I can think of that equals him in being perpetally overrated is J. ...give me a Fender Jag & a MXR blue box & I can tour with Lou & Murph on a dime...we are living in a post genre world...this is just rehashed 80's indy sludge AGAIN...at least we still have the Flaming Lips...pick up the next issue of Signal to Noise & check out whats happening in Chicago...the east coast is dead.
Posted by dank on 11.29.07 at 12:52
I think this is an album that only Thurston Moore can pull off, credibility still thoroughly in check. It's at times sappy, at times boring, and at times kind of trite- but on the whole, it equals out to being a thoroughly enjoyable and listenable record. It would have been silly to expect a radical departure from Sonic Youth, but I think this is as close as it gets. The only thing surprising about the record for me is the revelation of Thurston as a bon a fide songwriter, as opposed to his previous occupation as more of a soundscape artist with Sonic Youth. These are songs whose origin seems to come more from introspective songwriting than the sprawling jams that seem to birth Sonic Youth songs. On the whole, this album gets as close to adult contemporary as any member of Sonic youth will probably come, but is all the better for it.
Posted by joshua m christmas on 11.29.07 at 14:37
I sure do wonder what it is.
Posted by guccilo on 6.15.09 at 7:25
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