Acoustic’ and ‘folk’ are certainly not words you’d associate with Sonic Youth: the sole exception in their back catalogue that comes to mind is the beguiling, world-weary ‘Winner’s Blues’ (the opening track from 1994 album Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star). However, guitarist/vocalist Thurston Moore displayed a pleasantly surprising knack for wistful, mellow tunesmithery on his second solo album, 2007’s Trees Outside The Academy. If that was just one aspect of his sound on that album, it’s pretty much the blueprint for follow-up Demolished Thoughts.
Don’t be fooled by the title: this is a mostly down-tempo, understated record, characterised by patient, repetitive arrangements, plaintive strumming and elegant strings.
It’s tempting to compare this record with the recently released solo album of Moore’s long-time friend and partner-in-alt-rock-crime, J Mascis. However, while Mascis is all open chords and Neil Young-esque whine, Moore’s approach is more intricate and subtly melancholic, with gently reflective vocals that are more in line with the likes of Nick Drake. Perhaps a more suitable contemporary comparison would be Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring For My Halo: much like that album, it sets a consistent mood with cyclical psych-folk arrangements (as Matador label-mates, Vile and Moore will be touring together later in the year). The overall vibe of the album also owes much to Beck’s presence on production duties – the influence of his classic album Sea Change has been pointed out elsewhere.
There’s a notable warmth to the compositions on Demolished Thoughts. Opening track ‘Benediction’ sets the tone, a pastorally-tinged, acoustic-based song with devotional lyrics and soothing violin from Samara Lubielski. ‘Orchard Street’ is a nostalgic homage to late-’70s New York, where Moore first set about emulating his idols.
‘Blood Never Lies’ is a definite standout, showcasing a striking lightness-of-touch as chiming acoustic guitar, wistful vocals and bewitching strings dovetail. Elsewhere, ‘Circulation’ provides a brief moment of comparative frenzy, although it stays within the acoustic-guitar-and-strings framework.
Occasionally the album drifts and there’s some recycled melodies here and there (‘Space’ recalls Sonic Youth’s ‘Sunday’), but overall this is a highly enjoyable release from Moore. He may still have the appearance of the eternal teenager – or at the very least the coolest college professor you never had – but mid-life reflection suits him surprisingly well.