At a glance, The Best Day readies itself to do what Washing Machine did for Sonic Youth’s discography in the ’90s: a return to “form” after the brief detour through the alternative rock-leaning Goo, grunge-y Dirty and everywhere-at-once Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, albums that were hardly the departures some have made them out to be. To wit: song lengths on The Best Day are longer on average than they were on Thurston Moore’s previous “proper” solo albums. Add to this the fact that Thurston Moore has banded together a team of higher profile musicians than ever before, including old pal Steve Shelley, My Bloody Valentine’s bassist Debbie Googe and Nought’s guitarist James Sedwards, and The Best Day becomes — before you even listen to it — Moore’s most ambitious solo album. But after you’ve listened to it, I’d put it further: this is the best Sonic Youth-related album of the new decade so far, and possibly the best Sonic Youth-related album since 2004’s Sonic Nurse. Thank God; I was getting tired of their name being soiled after being dragged into every Perfect Pussy review.
Opener “Speak to the Wild” has Moore’s most melodic singing on the record, with a ringing guitar riff and an equally ringing bass line to boot before the band enters a head-first chug into darkness that lasts over two minutes and never loses focus. Meanwhile, “Forevermore” has the album’s most straightforward lyric as its hook, “That’s why I love you forevermore”, and it could be a song devoted to his new flame or Coco. Despite being primarily based on acoustic guitars, “Tape” doesn’t let off the album’s steam: it’s anxious the entire way through, recalling something like Washing Machine’s “Unwind”, both sonic encapsulations of the tenser moments of suburban life. The title track that follows is more compact and riff-centric than the preceding songs; it makes sense that the song was released as a teaser for the album, but it’s hardly representative of the whole.
Meanwhile, Thurston’s description of the album balancing the “signature thrashing electric guitars” that he’s made a quad-decade career out of and “blissful 12-string acoustic ballads” that comprised most of 2011’s Demolished Thoughts is exactly what happens on “Vocabularies”. It begins with birds chirping underneath acoustic guitars, slowly becoming more and more tense before electric guitars finally enter the fray and shift the song’s direction entirely. The instrumental, “Grace Lake”, that follows is perhaps the album’s best showcase of Moore and Sedwards’ guitar interplay, while Googe provides a bed of hooky intervals for them to go off of. Like “Vocabularies” before it, the guitars become drenched in distortion, culminating in heavy feedback halfway through and the rhythm section taking over and seeing the song to the finish line.
Sure, it’s not perfect. Broadly speaking, the sound is too clean and Steve Shelley ain’t the drummer he used to be — he keeps time more than he does strike thunder — and as a result, some songs fail to ignite like they used to. Elsewhere, the way the band returns to the theme of “Speak to the Wild” after the instrumental passage at the 6:20 mark is lazy, as if they didn’t know how to transition between the two. Meanwhile, the last 30 seconds of “The Best Day” just patters out without signifying anything (compare this to the quiet endings of “Schizophrenia” or “Dirty Boots” to see what you’re missing). “Detonation”’s ending, despite being the exact opposite sonically speaking, is equally flaccid. Moore’s super-serious delivery of the super-serious “YOU MAY HAVE TO USE A TOY GRENADE!” while the band stops playing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But quibbles and kerfuffles aside, I — being a huge Sonic Youth fan — thoroughly enjoyed Moore’s newest output and am looking forward to the next.