Thurston Moore hits Sonic Middle Age
On second listen, Demolished Thoughts reveals a secret benediction
In retrospect, "Benediction," the soft salvo from Thurston Moore's May 2011 solo offering, Demolished Thoughts, has blossomed into one of the most poignant moments in the 28-year career of the Sonic Youth guitarist/vocalist. "With benediction in her eyes, our dearest gods are not surprised," he breathes in hushed, ethereal tones. "You better hold your lover down, tie him to the ground."
His voice echoes the stirring violin and steel string arrangements, building a foundation for a luxuriant song cycle that bares the unmistakable warmth of producer Beck Hansen. As the introduction makes clear, Demolished Thoughts stands in marked contrast to the noisy guitar tones of Moore's 1995 offering, Psychic Hearts, and his 2007 album, Trees Outside the Academy. His two most song-oriented offerings, those LPs are genetically linked by the same atonal textures — and a loose break from the maturing approach to noise-pop — that were becoming evident in Sonic Youth's latter releases. These albums were his safe harbor as a songwriter, but when Demolished Thoughts arrived in May 2011, it was something different altogether.
Each of the nine songs that unfold throughout the album glow with a bucolic sense of comfort; or so it seems after a passive listen. Upon the album's arrival it was quickly hailed as a change of direction and a very adult offering for Moore. Words like "mature" and "folk" started to crop up in virtually every review the album received. After all, when an album that boasts the production qualities of Demolished Thoughts falls on the heels of Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks' equally lush Mirror Traffic (also produced by Beck), a textural pattern emerges.
But less than five months after the album dropped, sad news came in the form of a press release from Sonic Youth's label, Matador Records. "Musicians Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, married in 1984, are announcing they have separated," the release coldly stated. "Sonic Youth, with both Kim and Thurston involved, will proceed with its South American tour dates in November. Plans beyond that tour are uncertain. The couple has requested respect for their personal privacy and does not wish to issue further comment."
In light of this, Demolished Thoughts became a completely different album, a real-time documentary of love in the throes of collapse. But there's nothing desperate about it. In fact, the album is teeming with beauty and anxiety. Then again, there's that opening song title, "Benediction." Is it simply an utterance of best wishes? Or is it a query to the universe, asking for guidance at the end of a decades-long relationship?
Moore's ruminations remain hidden in a stylistic embrace of prose and sounds that flourish in songs such as "Illuminine," "Circulation," and "Orchard Street." Later, the heart-bursting melodies of "In Silver Rain With a Paper Key" collide head-on with the jilted anxiety of "Mina Loy." Violinist Samara Lubelski's musical angles carry as much poetic weight as Moore's voice and lyrics. While Moore has never been a particularly eloquent lyricist, even throughout Sonic Youth's greatest highs, he keeps his slacker sneer to an understated minimum.
Backed on the record by Mary Lattimore (harp), Beck (synths, bass, vocals), Bram Inscore (bass), and Joey Waronker (percussion), Moore has created an all-consuming sound. His acoustic/electric strumming and delicate singing, supported by grand arrangements and harmonies, reveal more with each repeated listen. His gifts as a songwriter, singer, and musician at large are put on display to a degree that he's never revealed before.
Demolished Thoughts transcends his former glories, as both solo artist and founding member of Sonic Youth. As the record plays on, the summer-day melancholy tucked inside "Benediction," and every other song on the album, reveals itself in subtle, poetic ways that Moore, at any other point in his life, never could have wielded with such sincerity.