Among the handful of common themes established over the first four months of 2011, one of the most curious has been a series of reclamations of the acoustic troubadour persona. Slacker rock legend J Mascis confidently unplugged for his recent LP, Several Shades of Why, while direct Mascis descendant Kurt Vile upped the fidelity and sanded down the prickly lo-fi edges of his sound for an uncommonly comfortable coming-out party on the great Smoke Ring for My Halo. Continuing the trend is Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, who has taken his recent solo work in the exact opposite direction of his still-prolific main gig.
It may have taken twelve years for Trees Outside the Academy (2007) to arrive after 1995’s very SY-like Psychic Hearts, but the record notably evidenced a man totally comfortable in his maturing artistic skin, transferring many of his stylistic proclivities to the stripped-down realm of the acoustic-oriented singer-songwriter. It wasn’t a bad look, though a lot of the material probably could have worked better if allowed to simmer amidst the cauldron of Moore’s full-time band. (Perhaps not coincidentally, this is the same basic gripe Maura had with Several Shades of Why.)
On evidence of “Benediction,” from the forthcoming Demolished Thoughts, Moore appears to be settling into this new mode with a dedication many would probably not have originally guessed. What continues to overlap between these outlets, however, is Moore’s ambiguously macabre lyrics, which here belie the good graces suggested by the song’s title and instead outline a domineering relationship (“You better hold your lover down / And tie him to the ground”) with potentially fatal consequences (“Simple pleasure strike like lightning / Scratches cross her name / Whisper I love you my darling / Life is just a flame”). The chasm widens even further as Moore juxtaposes these unsettling lines with an almost chamber-like arrangement featuring frequent collaborator Samara Lubelski on violin. It’s got a tone similar to that of the early work of Tim Buckley (think Hello and Goodbye ), but undercurrents reminiscent of the urban nightmares typical of Lou Reed. But it’s important to note that these artists frequently changed modes of expressions as well, and with Moore’s solo career looking more and more like its own artistic concern, it’s probably time we start evaluating this music on its own terms. “Benediction” may fall perfectly in line with 2011, but Moore seems to have his eyes wisely focused on the big picture. [CMG]