Thurston sounds like Thurston, even when he's acoustic. He's just not nearly as interesting.
My word, this is a long, slow, dull, boring album. And not even in a good way. It’s not dull and boring in a way that’s theoretically cool, like whatever the most recent SYR release is. (Sonic Youth Play the Aleatoric Bell Music of Giacinto Scelsi, I think.) Nor is it long and slow in a way that invites ruminative longing for transcendence, like Alexi Murdoch’s recent folk stunner Towards the Sun.
No, Thurston Moore’s acoustic solo album, Demolished Thoughts, is just long, slow, dull, and boring like a Thurston Moore acoustic album. Thurston comes up with some pretty chords but then he strums ‘em into the ground. His guitar rhythms are stiff and repetitive -- chop chop chop chop. He repeats his modestly attractive tunes in extremely square multiples of two. He and violinist Samara Lubelski trade off lines with exquisite tact and politeness -- they might be Emily Post and Miss Manners sharing tea breads.
Most of Demolished sounds like Sonic Youth unplugged, without the drums or noise freak-outs. This makes sense -- a Thurston song is a Thurston song. The opening line of “Orchard Street” could be a parody of Thurston’s trash-art-chic aesthetic: “Milky semen light, radiation boys / Breaking happy heart, blood and liquid noise”. (It could also be a really long title for an Andres Serrano retrospective.) “Orchard” also swipes some chords from SY’s 1992 song “Wish Fulfillment”, and therein lies much of this album’s appeal -- it’s soft comfort food for Sonic Youth fans who are getting long in the tooth. The chords, structures, weird tunings and vibe are all familiar, but several important elements -- electricity, rock, Kim Gordon -- are conspicuously absent.
Thurston being Thurston, there are moments of unusual beauty and dissonance here, stuff you wouldn’t find from anyone else. There’s a nice minute or so at the end of “Circulation”, for example, where Mary Lattimore’s harp chimes resonantly and the chords seem to slip sideways out of the song’s grasp. Unfortunately, those moments sit amid oodles of uninspired prettiness (e.g., the lead single, “Benediction”). Prettiness is nice and all, but there’s not much to it. Most musicians can do mere prettiness in their sleep -- just ask the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who are actually asleep when they play their music. The dissonant riffs in Thurston’s “Mina Loy” at least reveal him to be awake, but they lose any shock value once he repeats them four times and then switches to a less-compelling figure. Strumma strumma strumma strumma; yadda yadda yadda yadda.
Beck produced Demolished, and to his credit, this album does NOT sound like Beck’s snooze-a-rific Sea Change record. It’s a little less country than that. The characteristic sound of Demolished is acoustic guitar, violin, harp and occasionally some weird atmospheric howls in the background. Some of this is lovely, particularly Lattimore’s harp. Some of it sounds like the beginning of “Silent Lucidity”. Some of it sounds like “The Battle of Evermore”. Actually, mostly, it sounds like “The Battle of Evermore” with the singers replaced by Thurston Moore and the haunting melodies replaced with trite noodling. Not a good trade.
Throughout these nine songs, Thurston places nice neat dissonances out for our approval, right there on the tea tray, without apparent regard for whichever pastoral banality he’s going to serve up next. In this context, both dissonance and prettiness lose their power to surprise, or even to affect. They’re just there to admire and forget as soon as the music’s over. Demolished Thoughts is stripped down, acoustic, almost drumless, but full of strings, evocative, but emotionally distant. Basically it’s Josh Groban’s Illuminations with weak tunes and unique chords. With few exceptions, neither would upset your local tea room.