Thurston Moore – Trees Outside the Academy
Ecstatic Peace Records (2007)
By Ben Allen
Although I disagree with him only using his first name (who does he think he is Cher?), Sonic Youth’s main man has released a surprisingly quiet, pretty album. Asked in a recent Spin interview about the stripped down nature of the songs featured on Trees Outside the Academy, Moore replied, “They’re more personally naked because I know that [the solo albums] are not a shared game.”
Trees doesn’t stray far from Moore’s work with Sonic Youth. Though he plays mostly acoustic guitar in regular tuning, the chord progressions have a familiar sound. SY’s Steve Shelley holds down the beat on most tracks, while violinist Samara Lubelski compensates for the missing presence of Lee Ronaldo’s electric guitar. Thurston called on other friends such as Christina Carter of Charalambides, who’s beautifully soothing voice compliments him on several tracks. Even Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis makes an appearance – the album was recorded at his home studio.
As the story goes, Thurston would call down the stairs whenever a song called for some heavy shredding. J would oblige, taking a break from watching TV, lumber up the stairs, plug in and let it rip!
One standout track is “Honest James,” which starts with a simple acoustic strum complimented by a lead guitar harmony. Then, two minutes in, the guitar stalls on one chord while Moore and Carter’s voices take over the harmony. It sounds like Moore solemnly singing to a recently departed family member. “Come back honest James…every song is empty without your friendly tone.” It ends with the refrain “and I’ll always love him” repeated over and over. The effect is stunning. Other highlights include the instrumentals “Off Work,” a funky, jammy tune with violin accents, and “Trees Outside the Academy,” the album’s powerful closer.
The only true mis-step is the pointless “American Coffin,” featuring a minute of feedback followed by Thurston’s atonal tinkering on piano. It could pass for a home recording of a six year old student piano recital. Of course, Moore can never stray too far from the noise, and at least three tracks feature ear blistering guitar screeches. The home analog experiment of “Free Noise Among Friends” sounds comparable to two robots having rough sex.
Moore’s first song-based solo album (1995’s Psychic Hearts) was reissued last year and has aged with grace and beauty. Trees Outside the Academy is likely to sound just as forward thinking and fresh a decade from now.
So what can we expect from a Thurston Moore “solo” performance? Evidently Moore has been playing almost exclusively tracks off Trees. Rumor has it that no matter how persistent, he is ignoring requests for Sonic Youth songs, which he should. What you can expect is a moving set of newer material with the possibility of older solo material as encores. Shelley and Lubelski, both featured prominently on the record, are accompanying him on tour, along with relative unknowns Chris Brokaw and Matt Heyner. A Thurston Moore solo performance without SY songs may sound unappealing to many, but Trees Outside the Academy stands strong on its own, and, I suspect, so too will the live performance.
For those of you just tuning in, Moore stands as one of the most important and influential musical artists of the last twenty-five years. Sonic Youth’s constant evolution as a band has always been met with critical praise (except for maybe NYC Ghost and Flowers). Moore is also a writer and editor (his latest work entitled House: Anarchist Interiors); he runs Ecstatic Peace! Records, jams with countless improv/noise groups and still manages to be husband to longtime partner/bandmate Kim Gordon and father to daughter Coco. – (7.9/10)
Thurston Moore performs at Nuemo’s on Wednesday, October 24 with Scorces. $15 in advance.