I won’t and don’t pretend otherwise: Thurston Moore has long been my favorite of the three songwriters of Sonic Youth, which has long been one of my favorite bands. True, he might not have been as expressive vocally as Kim Gordon (ie. “I Love You Golden Blue”), but he was often a lot less obnoxious lyrically (ie. “Nevermind (What Was That Anyway)”) and from a purely vocal perspective, he was stronger than Lee Ranaldo (as was Gordon, on that note). Of course, Moore isn’t without his problems: his vocals on early Sonic Youth records often gave way to obnoxious brattiness, but the Youth were never about individual talents or vocals. Which is part of the reason why Trees Outside the Academy and The Best Day (the main – key word – solo records that sandwich Demolished Thoughts) are worse – a lack of dynamics, which meant you got to witness how boring Moore’s slacker drawl got over the course of 40 minutes without Gordon or Ranaldo to balance.
Demolished Thoughts has a lack of dynamics too, but Moore’s slacker drawl are more befitting to the template, which are folksier numbers bolstered by string arrangements produced by Beck, no stranger to folksy numbers bolstered by string arrangements (ie. Sea Change, and he also produced Stephen Malkmus’ Mirror Traffic that same year) – hell, instead of “slacker drawl,” let’s call it “casual melodism.” In fact, this acoustic record has been the sort of thing I’ve wanted Thurston to make ever since Experimetal Jet Set, Trash and No Star’s “Winner’s Blues” or Washing Machine’s “Unwind” or any other sun-kissed quiet rebellion on later-day Sonic Youth albums with Moore on vocals. The sort that works as you’re drifting to sleep on your non-existent hammock because there’s nothing else to do in shitty suburbia and you’ve made a private commitment to smoke less. But at the same time, informed by that same suburban plight such that there’s an underlying anxiousness to the music.
The inherent supine quality of Moore’s vocals and the instruments (with the exception of “Orchard Street,” whose second half becomes an acoustic take on any noise breakdown of a Sonic Youth song, with harp) does make this hard to take as a whole – but no more so than say, any Sun Kil Moon record, whose typical records contain less seasoned musicians and comparatively little colour. Here, we have Joey Waronker (who has probably played drums for one of your favorite rock musicians of the late-90s/early-00s) to nudge songs along (ie. the last stretch of “Benediction”). And here, we have a combined team of violinist Samara Lubelski (previously on Trees Outside the Academy), harpist Mary Lattimore, bassist Bram Inscore and even Beck Hanson to provide colours (ie. Beck sings those wordless oo-vocals he’s so fond off in the back halfs of “Illuminine,” “In Silver Rain With a Paper Key” and “January”). (Both Joey Waronkey and Bram Inscore have worked with Beck, with Inscore being the bassist on the Beck-produced Charlotte Gainsbourg albums). And that’s without stating the formidable guitar-work of both Thurston Moore and Bill Nace.
Specific details? There’s harp and plucked strings throughout “Illuminine” that paint the picture of Thurston’s words: “Your lovers light is home”; “To your wildest dreams.” There’s the punk charge (in attitude and tempo) of “Circulation” (giving credence to “I’m not running away”). There’s the slightest bit of echo distinguishing Moore’s voice in the heavy-hearted “Orchard Street” or the noisy intro (that points to Moore’s more experimental tendencies) of “In Silver Rain With a Paper Key” (not a highlight). And that’s without mentioning “Benediction,” the album’s best: the hand-offs between Moore’s melody-infused hooks with the warmed legato of the violin (“With benediction in her eyes…”) or the staccato acoustics (“Tie him to the ground…”) make the song feel much shorter than it actually is, and make it seem like it could go on for much longer. (It’s been a long time since I’ve read Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band, but I think she made a note about Demolished Thoughts being about Thurston’s romantic relationships at the time, which embarrassed him after the fact such that he didn’t tour it much…will confirm one day when/if I pick that book up again. But if that’s the case, it makes it harder to listen to a line like “But I know better than to let her go” without cringing.)
I realize I’ve been really kind, word-wise, to a record that I knew going in to this review would be an A- at most, and that, as I’m writing, has settled to a B+ in stone. I’ve long believed the members of Sonic Youth – especially Moore – could be great poets whenever they wanted to be. But throughout this record, I found my mind kept running to “Blue is bashful / Green is my goal / Yellow girls are running wild” and “Look into his eyes and you can see / Why all the little kids are dressed in dreams” because the lyrics here are vague; generic; not as colourful as the instruments and therefore, not as helpful to me, personally. Especially problematic given how lyrics have more importance on records such as these. But all the same, it’s a very respectable release by a 50 year old, and thus, deserved more than lukewarm words.