If I were the sort of smug-fuck reviewer who likes to call everyone who likes bands I’ve never heard of (or just don’t like) a “hipster,” I’d probably suggest that, by producing Thurston Moore’s new Demolished Thoughts, Beck has achieved some sort of “old hipster” singularity. Surely, I might say, Demolished Thoughts will suck in all the kids who wear those clothes I hate and they’ll collapse under the weight of their own perceived coolness.
But I’m not that kind of smug-fuck reviewer; I’m an entirely different kind of smug-fuck reviewer, the kind who really really likes the three or four Sonic Youth albums I own, but mostly because I think Kim Gordon is a total fucking badass and I would listen to her shout her grocery list at me over a blender full of i-Phones. And if loving Daydream Nation is smug, I don’t want to be whatever is the opposite of smug.
I suppose there are people who might get their expectations way up for Demolished Thoughts because it pairs Beck and Thurston Moore, but my only expectation was that it would be mostly good and have a few songs that were too goddamn long. My expectations in this case were about three-quarters correct – Demolished Thoughts is a largely beautiful album with really only one song that’s too goddamn long. Each of the nine tracks is over four minutes long, but “Orchard Street” is too long at seven minutes because it spends a lot of time at the end just being noisy (how much is “a lot”? Three fucking minutes, that’s how much). But honestly, I don’t mind it all that much – “Total Trash” is one of my favorite Sonic Youth songs and it gets inexplicably noisy right in the middle. It’s just that you have to know you’re going to get that from a Thurston Moore album (Beck is not immune to wallowing in unlistenable dissonance either – check out Stereopathic Soul Manure if you don’t believe me. It’ll send you begging for your Mellowgolds and Midnight Vultureses).
I have to admit, the word “beautiful” isn’t something I associate with even my favorite Sonic Youth songs (okay, “Do You Believe in Rapture?” is somewhat sort of beautiful. Sort of), so it’s a bit of a surprise to hear Moore craft an album of nine songs that are all at least a little bit beautiful. Demolished Thoughts is an acoustic affair, with lots of lovely string bits here and there. For some reason, it strikes me as the sort of album lots of elder statesmen of rock are inclined to make, but I don’ t think anyone will mistake it for, say, Johnny Cash’s American series.
Opener “Benediction” showcases Moore’s guitar playing skills, which are formidable (if anything, Thurston Moore is a bit underrated as a guitarist), and it sets the tone for the rest of the album. Yes, the guitars will drone here and there, but the overall album is actually really straightforward and – like the best Sonic Youth stuff – gets better with repeated listens. There are lots of subtle textures to take in and if the phrase “subtle textures” turns you off when used to describe music, I suspect I’ve just saved you the twelve bucks you might’ve spent on Demolished Thoughts. You’re welcome.
I suspect some Sonic Youth fans might balk a bit at Demolished Thoughts, but that’s okay with me. I guess I’m the kind of smug-fuck reviewer who doesn’t care if other people like an album or not. I like this record and that’s all that matters here at Bollocks! (awesome new contributors notwithstanding). There are some really nice melodies and it’s nice to hear Moore’s voice in such a simple setting. I’ve always liked him as a singer and his voice fits wonderfully around all the flitting string bits and softly brushed drums.
Lyrically, Moore keeps his Demolished Thoughts pretty abstract and occasionally abstractly pretty (I like the line “Simple pleasures strike like lightning” from “Benediction” – hence the title of this post), but it plays better to me that way. A lot of your standard acoustic folkish music is “I love my baby” or “my baby left me” or “I have a burgeoning social consciousness.” For Thurston Moore, “In Silver Rain with a Paper Key” is his “My baby left me” song, but the leaver in question sort of disappears the way things do in dreams. In fact, a dreamlike quality permeates Demolished Thoughts and it would probably wear thin if the album were any longer.
Was anyone worried that Demolished Thoughts would sound like a Beck album just because he produced it? I can’t imagine someone would have been, but if the Thurston Moore album does sound like a Beck record, it’s Mutations, which is my favorite Beck record. I read a review (I think it was the Onion A.V. Club’s review) that thought Sea Change was the obvious analogue to Demolished Thoughts, but it actually reminds me more of Mike Doughty’s Skittish than any Beck album. Doughty’s solo debut was probably a little more lyrically direct, but there’s a sense in both Skittish and Demolished Thoughts of two singer-songwriters stripping their aesthetic down to the bare essentials. In Doughty’s case, it’s something he kinda had to do in the wake of Soul Coughing’s acrimonious demise. Moore might just be taking a nice vacation from Sonic Youth and everything it means – both to the band and their longtime fans – to have been in that group for the last thirty years. Whatever his aim, Demolished Thoughts is a pretty lovely listen when you’re seeking something a little softer around the edges than, say, Goo.
A probably fair(ish) criticism of Thurston Moore (and Sonic Youth in general) is that he too often experiments for the sake of experimenting. I can see how you’d arrive at that conclusion, but I offer Demolished Thoughts and the rest of his body of work as evidence that perhaps the dude just has an amazingly diverse record collection and the synthesizing of all of these sources of inspiration can occasionally be a bit obnoxious. But I’m far more interested in someone who tirelessly seeks to push their sound than I am in someone who just quietly strums out the same few chord progressions and sings about their myriad romantic misadventures. See, that’s my biggest beef with strummy, acoustic singer/songwriter stuff – a lot of it tends to sound exactly the same to me. If Thurston Moore’s relentless experimenting (if that’s even what it is) occasionally leads him to make something terrible, it also led him to make Demolished Thoughts, which is a fairly sublime departure from the usual acousti-troubadour stuff.