Friday, November 23, 2007

No. 9

9. Thurston Moore-Trees Outside The Academy

I'll admit that I was never a very big fan of Sonic Youth until this year. Even now, I still have my doubts about them. I tend to enjoy bands who were heavily influenced by Sonic Youth more than Sonic Youth themselves. Seeing them perform all of "Daydream Nation" at McCarren Park in Brooklyn changed a lot of that for me. It was a heavily captivating set throughout, and everyone there seemed to feel that they were a part of something truly special. I still felt that, because I was working my way back in time through the Sonic Youth catalogue, trying to grasp something that honestly didn't appeal to me on its own very much, that maybe they just weren't for me after all. But everyone talked up Sonic Youth so much that I felt as if there was something wrong with me for not getting it instantly. That was all until I heard Thurston Moore's recent solo album, "Trees Outside The Academy," for the first time this past September.

SY drummer Steve Shelley and renown violinist Samara Lubelski provide the essential backbone of this record, which also features several fuzzed out, rip roaring solos from J. Mascis. From there, the rest is all Thurston, displaying his uncanny songwriting ability throughout, an ability that doesn't always come through in the more experimental, feedback drenched noise of other Sonic Youth records. Not to put that side of Thurston down, I just like the side that comes out in this record a lot more. As writer Michael Azzerad said, if you can’t play it on an acoustic guitar, it’s not really a song. Lubelski’s violin plays a crucial role throughout the record, filling in all of the empty space and turning the songs into gorgeous, autumnal tunes, meant to tug on your hearstrings. The album serves as a poignant reflection, a sign of Thurston’s maturity, yet a clear indicator he does not plan on throwing in the towel anytime soon. The fact that that he’s able to reinvent himself as impressively as this, so far into his career as a musician, is proof that he may in fact deserve the iconic status commonly ascribed to him. Songs like “Fri/End”, “The Shape Is In a Trance,” and “Never Day” are probably the strongest tracks on the record, but don’t expect to be skipping around much on this one. This is certainly a record where you hit play and just let it go, feeling truly transformed by the end of your first listen, and keeping you coming back for more.

The production of the acoustic mix on this record makes it come off like a punk album, in a sense. You’re able to hear the pick hitting the strings as much as you are able to hear what chords he’s actually playing, making sure you know that just cause’s he’s gone acoustic doesn’t mean he’s lost his punk rock energy. You can hear the energy he’s putting into hitting that thing as hard as he can as much as you can hear the fine craftsmanship he’s put into writing these songs.
The songs on this record seem a logical progression from the melodic, refined, and highly listenable rock songs of the last Sonic Youth record, "Rather Ripped." Could it be his biggest influence here is Sonic Youth? It certainly sounds like the intention of this record was to explore a whole different side of Sonic Youth that wouldn’t work as the follow up to “Rather Ripped,” but works perfectly as a solo attempt. On a side note, the title track is apparently about Ian Curtis, and the third track, entitled “Honest James,” is about James Brown. I’ll have to give those both a closer listen now.

Listen: “The Shape Is In A Trance,” “Fri/End,” “Never Day,” “Off Work”

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