Most albums require a significant amount of time to pass—a year, five years, a decade—before a new perspective can be reached in regards to their value and meaning after initial release. This tacit rule doesn’t hold true with Thurston Moore’s recent solo album Demolished Thoughts (Matador, 2011). The announcement of the marital split between Moore and Kim Gordon, both founding members of Sonic Youth, came as a surprise to many fans, given the sense of stability and definition their marriage had provided for the band. Indeed, this background sense of domesticity offset their avant-garde reputation without compromising it, giving their listeners something to relate to even if Gordon and Moore largely avoided it as a topic up for public discussion. Hence, the unexpected feeling of personal loss held by many with the swift reports that unfolded on that Friday in October. This album is unavoidably a document of this personal and professional transition.
Demolished Thoughts was released in May, and in truth, I first listened to it for free on NPR Music. This small detail says a lot about the album and the place that Moore (who is 53) has arrived at in his career. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Sonic Youth, a band established amid the No Wave scene in New York City during the early 1980s, but one which—given its longevity and influence—has been seen at the intersection of a number of other trends, before and since. Over countless releases for a variety of major and obscure labels, Moore (guitar), Gordon (bass, guitar), Lee Ranaldo (guitar), and Steve Shelley (drums, since 1985) prefigured and aided the mainstreaming of alternative/indie rock with recordings that tested the limits of songcraft through heavy distortion, length, and, in concert, sheer volume. Daydream Nation, their double LP from 1988, is often viewed as their masterpiece—it’s included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress—but their persistent output and experimentation since then has demonstrated a deeper ambition than simply receiving critical acclaim. Their work has questioned the possibilities of meaningful endurance in a genre that has typically depended on brevity in stylistic and even professional terms.