Chelsea Light Moving, ‘Chelsea Light Moving’ (Matador)
Release Date: March 5, 2013
To the outside world, it looks like Thurston Moore’s whole Daydream Nation has fallen apart: A year and a half ago, he split with his wife and muse, Kim Gordon, putting Sonic Youth on indefinite hiatus. But Chelsea Light Moving, the eponymous debut by one of his new groups (yes, only one of them) indicates that indie music’s favorite guitar-string-stretcher and walking encyclopedia is carrying on with business as usual. Musically, the album sounds like harder-edged SY, full of post-post-punk riffing, countercultural history lessons, noisy Interzones, (off-)beat poetry, and, of course, Moore’s noodle-y fretboard terrorism and vocal snarls. Rather than throwing middle fingers to the world and putting out an album’s worth of black metal (although that’s apparently coming soon), this is an entirely different declaration of independence: Moore doesn’t necessarily need his best band to be at his best.
Indeed, every song here is redolent of Sonic Youth. Whereas his most recent solo album, the Beck-produced 2011 sea change Demolished Thoughts, was an exercise in acoustic restraint, Chelsea Light Moving errs toward excess. And while Moore’s most straightforward, rock-focused solo album, 1995’s Psychic Hearts, turned up the amps (and scaled back the anthemic choruses), this one has a more comfortable flow, with far more memorable hooks. If it were officially billed as a Thurston Moore solo album, it would be his best to date.
Indeed, bolstered by his Chelsea Light Moving cohorts — Samara Lubelski on bass, Keith Wood on guitar, and John Moloney on drums — “Burroughs” has a directness that its naked-lunching namesake never had, held together by a bludgeoning Stooges-esque riff that sounds like the audio equivalent of shock treatment and an apocalyptically noisy stoner-rock breakdown. The trippier, hippier “Empires of Time” spells out the quartet’s mantra — “We are the third eye of rock’n’roll” — while “Groovy & Linda,” a tale of the Love Generation in decline, features the epigram “Don’t shoot, we are your children.” The punky “Lip” sticks out for having a snotty, memorable “too fucking bad!” refrain that owes a debt to the early work of one of Moore’s favorite bands, Redd Kross; for authenticity’s sake, album closer “Communist Eyes” is a faithful Germs cover that almost reaches the original’s filth and fury. And the record’s best track, “Alighted,” is a mostly instrumental grunge meltdown about getting wasted, rounded out by a noise freakout transported straight from “Death Valley ’69.”
Then there are Moore’s two other Sonic Youth hallmarks: pop-culture references and emotional confessionals, which combine often here. “Frank O’Hara Hit” chronicles all the major societal events that have occurred around Moore’s birthday (July 25), including the death of its titular poet, Dylan going electric, and the birth of Mick Jagger (also toasted on Psychic Hearts). It’s the sort of poetically self-interested song that makes those curious about Moore’s personal inspirations fixate on ambiguous lines like “I never know, know what to do / But everybody knows it’s because of you,” as delivered in the raging noise-pop cacophony “Sleeping Where I Fall.”
Is that an observation about the Current State of Thurston Moore, or merely some casual arcane reference? Regardless of the catalyst, Chelsea Light Moving is an entirely successful test of Moore’s post-breakup mettle. Clearly, he will survive.