There’s a tendency amongst chin-stroking musos to discuss the solo endeavours of Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo solely in relation to their tenures as members of Sonic Youth, which is exactly what I’m about to do.
This is unsurprising given that each of them was a vital component in possibly the most influential and forward thinking guitar bands to grace both the 20th or 21st Centuries (drummer Steve Shelley was also vital of course, but given that he’s now part of The Thurston Moore Band it’s safe to say that he’s not overly fussed about etching his own name into the annals of rock ’n' roll). However, this approach also tends to overlook the fact that, as part of a collective like Sonic Youth, components is all these musicians could ever really be. From ‘Evol’ to ‘The Eternal’, this was a band that relied on each of its huge musical presences to curtail one another’s egos (though possibly not their excesses).
It is for this reason that Thurston Moore’s recent solo releases (leaving aside his numerous collaborations with Anne-James Chaton, the surviving members of Can and the rest of Chelsea Light Moving) can, from a certain point of view, be viewed as better, or at least more representative of his skill as a guitarist, than any of his previous work.
‘Rock n Roll Consciousness’, like its predecessor ‘The Best Day’, boasts a concrete, solid line-up of My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe on bass, Nought’s James Sedwards on second guitar, plus Shelley on the sticks. Each member brings a piece of their own identity to the show (Googe’s hypnotic playing style is particularly noticeable, partly because it could not be further from Kim Gordon’s rabid plectrum attack), but, despite Moore’s recent claim that their unspoken mental connection is beginning to reach the same level that his old band enjoyed, this is still absolutely his show.
One of the results of his unfettered creative dominance is ‘Rock n Roll Consciousness’s massive track runtimes. The record consists of just five songs (excluding recent single ‘Cease Fire’ for some reason known only to him, maybe it was too short?) but it still clocks in at just under 45 minutes. Though Sonic Youth might rarely have limited themselves to three minute pop ditties, they actually only broke the ten-minute barrier twice, once on ‘Washing Machine’s epic closer ‘The Diamond Sea’ and two-part aural assault ‘Fire Engine Dream’. Here Moore and team do it twice.
The looping krautrock of this album, typified by the mammoth ‘Exalted’ and ‘Turn On’, bears little resemblance to even the most expansive Youth jams. Instead Moore picks out the slow, almost doom metal-esque vibe of ‘The Best Day’s centrepiece ‘Forevermore’ as the basis for the sound he’s looking to explore this time round.
He absolutely nails it too. ‘Cusp’ is quite unlike anything in his back catalogue, its never-ending crescendo built on some tasty snarework from Shelly melds together noise rock dissonance and with an overarching vibe of tranquillity. Elsewhere recent single ‘Smoke of Dreams’ even sees him loosening the reigns enough to give Sedwards a soaring, Frusciante-esque solo.
Sure as the years have progressed his lyrics have become little more than mumbled placeholders that he’ll most likely forget live, but they don’t need to be anything more. This is a guitar record through and through, another attempt to push the instrument to its limit from a man who has made smacking a six string into a bonafide art form.
If you are still pining for a Sonic Youth reunion at the end of this album then your ears might need retuning. This is the sound of a questing spirit pushing at the parameters of unlimited freedom, a hand reaching out to grasp infinity and not falling far short.
Words: Josh Gray
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