Thurston Moore spent a long time with that one band, but he’s continually collaborated with a variety of artists. Whether from jazz, rock, or another background, these artists—from Nels Cline to Yoko Ono to John Zorn to Mats Gustafsson—frequently fit with Moore’s general experimental sensibility while enabling him to follow different experimental paths. Since Sonic Youth’s ending in 2011, he’s put out a series of improvisational albums alongside (relatively) more traditional solo or band albums. With Rock n Roll Consciousness Moore sticks with the same lineup as his previous album, digs into his old, central sound, and finds success in both the consistency and newness.
The band matches perfectly with Moore. My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe plays bass, an obvious (but in no way dull) choice. James Sedwards adds guitar, bringing the flexibility he’s demonstrated in bands like Chrome Hoof, Nought, and previous work with Moore. Steve Shelley, a long-time partner from Sonic Youth, takes the drums. It looks good on paper, and it worked for The Best Day a couple years ago. The group stuck together, toured, and it seems like a new band, rather than a series of one-offs or wandering muses, has started to cohere.
“Cusp” shows a band that’s already moved past the edge, spending six minutes in a steady drive, but finding ways to work nuance and layers into the recording. In a way, it’s the simplest track on the album. Opener “Exalted” runs nearly twice that length, shifting through various movements, echoing a quintessential Sonic Youth sound while creating unexpected tones, pounding into darkness, and finding release in its patient exit. These longer tracks let the band practice its restraint without losing its energy, using the sprawl that Moore fans will be used to without allowing the performances to diffuse.
While the music spreads itself out, straining at its edges, the lyrics (some by Moore and some by poet Radio Radieux) seek an expansion of the mind. The record’s a mystical trip, moving from the power of the mind to goddess love to occult explorations. Moore and Radieux both have something to say. There’s an earnest quest here, or maybe a revelation, but the statements serve more to structure a general tenor for the album. On “Aphrodite”, the instrumental work makes the statement, the aggressive guitars responding to the dark chordal structures of the first half of the track. Whatever sort of runes the lyrics explain, the music creates the understanding.
And that makes sense in a rock ‘n’ roll consciousness. The album sounds close to a revived Sonic Youth, scans like a New Age weekend, but draws its power from a concert stage. Moore and his collaborators are a band now, responsive and dialogic, and the corporate mindset pays off in the five pieces on the album. The esotericism of the disc works best as a vocal counterpart and keeping to the margins, helping all the pieces come together for work that draws on an avant past (if such a thing exists) while pushing its way into new territories.