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Music

Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo Share Lockdown, Shelter in Place, Protest Gems

Cover of Instant Transcendent Conjecture

One of the pleasures of human culture is that, as a combined stream of millions of individuals' efforts in this current moment, and millions of people's inputs across time stretching back thousands of years, no single person will ever have seen or heard it all.

Today, despite my absurdly huge collection of the works of Thurston Moore, I identified a new microgenre: "songs named after Thurston Moore". His name is the title of songs on Bandcamp by Vincenzo Canoro, Coley Park, Pseudotunesmith, Peanut Ricky, Kayne and the Noise, Tundra Artica, Mike Cooper, Itä-Hollola Installaatio, ELM (the gloriously titled "Las Maracas De Thurston Moore"), Catch the Reference?, V.I. Dale, Up North Kids, Clay Android, the Milky Baskets, 89 Godzilla, Poweranimal, Kurz, the Falcon, the Antikörper Sessions – plus a cover of Moore's "Speak to the Wild" by Nadj and Palem Candillier. How far things have come since Sebadoh's "Gimme Indie Rock".

Across the past few months, Moore has been adding unreleased songs to his Bandcamp page. The latest, released on 5 June, is "Strawberry Moon", which layers rising and falling guitar spray over a sonorous strummed bass line. The effect is hypnotic, endless shivers and shifts within an overall flow of notes make the piece comfortingly familiar, while always different. Around the five-minute mark, the tone drops, notes echo and boom, then at the same steady pace, everything rises, cresting over and over until one guitar cycles a spindly pattern as the underpinnings disintegrate into a distant roar. It's reminiscent of the denouement to "Expressway to Your Skull".

Performed by Moore's short-lived band Chelsea Light Moving, "Sunday Stage" smashes out of the speaker – then cuts dead. It's a neat false opening before the locked in chug of the band takes over. Moore sings with a lightness he doesn't often display, his comfort zone being a shiver inducingly intimate purr. There's a great outro; everything dies except drums and a dry clunk of a guitar string, then an incandescent screech slices it all apart with a Nightmare on Elm Street viciousness, the band finally stopping on a dime with a last emphatic thump. There are a few videos floating around of 2013 live appearances.

"Telegraph" is a breezy little tune. Moore starts with some solo guitar plucks and strums, then the full band launches in. The lyrics are taken from the poetry of John Donne. "Here's where the mantra begins, where the wildfires reach for the wind, blue days break for your pleasure, and the gold rays color your skin." It's a testament to the signals poetry can send across centuries, to the unity of human experience through time-space and changing seasons. The lyrics make a case for rock 'n' roll as nature worship and pagan rite. Surprisingly gentle fingered patterns give the track it's back-forth dynamic, space to breathe before everything breaks down into full-on guitar hero slides and squeals or wordless choruses firm as a tensed bicep.

"The Lords and the Ladies" debuted on a 2013 jaunt with Michael Chapman and, for some reason, makes me think of summer sun. What intrigues me is the level of skill involved in making a written composition sound improvised and spontaneous. I'm not sure I can fathom the level of memory and recall required to retain the knowledge of the changes within a piece made up of evolving acoustic guitar passages rather than any kind of basic verse-chorus-verse repetitions.

Pogo like it's 1979, and you're at a double-bill featuring the Jam and Buzzcocks! "Instant Transcendent Conjecture" has a pumping beat made for bobbing heads and shuffling feet. The guitar takes off near two minutes in, surging seasick up-down, chivying the song along with a skittering tone. For most of the final minute, things are thudded home with a rubber-mallet subtlety – then Moore's voice returns for a brief but rousing moment.

"May Daze" was written as an encouragement and incitement for American citizens to register to vote – and given the current state of the democratic experiment, this seems eternally timely. Instead of pushy ranting, Moore opts for a mid-tempo rocker underpinning his lyrical back-and-forth between the personal and the social. The instrumental shrapnel bomb explodes right where one would expect, but most bands can only dream of a normal day-at-the-office that's this on point.

A hardcore-inspired minute-and-change, "No Go" is pure punk poetry. For two spells, each a sparse 20 seconds, two blunt statements alternate: "Say what you will / Stay where you are." Then the song slams into yelps of "no!! Go!! No!! Go!! No! Go!!" What's clever is that both sections consist of what could be a single ambiguous phrase or sentence, or alternately, could be opposing elements. Is this a conversation in two voices? Is 'no go' a singular annulment, or should the phrase be separated into an instruction and a refusal to budge? I loved Sonic Youth's TV Shit EP of 1994 (with Yamatsuka Eye), where they smashed out four live iterations of Youth Brigade's "No Song II". So I found "No Go" equally amusing and surprisingly thought-provoking too for lyrics too short to form a haiku but preserving the juxtaposition that is a key feature of that poetic form. I better stop given the song is ten words long, and I've taken that many times over to give a sense of it!

While Kim Gordon's album No Home Record was a highlight of 2019, Ranaldo's collaboration with Raül Refree on Names of North End Women became a favorite back in that brief pre-COVID 2020 -- remember that? It was a pleasure in mid-May to see a brand new video accompanying a 29-year-old cover Ranaldo recorded way back in May 1991. I've loved the song since finding a copy of the Amarillo Ramp (For Robert Smithson) LP on a first trip record shopping in London back in 1999 when I was 19. The video is a touching record of a very strange global experience, while the song finds perfect symmetry between tenderness and intoxication. In this equivocal moment, where every sliver of silver is sewn with a grey and somber hem, what better note to end on?

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