In the wake of 1995’s Psychic Hearts—a sinewy, endless grab-bag—Thurston Moore’s singer-songwriter albums strained to find an identity independent of Sonic Youth. This was a process. Moore was Moore, after all: a smart-ass, a downtown counterculture iconoclast, a walking music encyclopedia prone to punctuating guitar eruptions and searing feedback. A more refined version of this persona was pursued for 2007’s Trees Outside the Academy, but as with Hearts, it wound up in a scattered place. 2011’s Demolished Thoughts burst into a startlingly hushed, wistful zone that 2014’s The Best Day co-opted only briefly when Moore wasn’t (once again) covering his multi-aesthetic spread.
We couldn’t have known that Day instrumental “Grace Lake” would preview Moore’s reinvention and reorientation on Rock’N’Roll Consciousness, his most concise, transportive record to date. The keys to Consciousness’ triumph: fewer songs, fewer vocals, way, way more gorgeous guitar work. Day contributor/poet Radio Radieux again supplements Moore’s own woke mystic sage lyricism, but this time their sentiments exist to tee up or sign-post adventures for Moore and his road-tested lineup of bassist Deb Googe, guitarist James Sedwards, and drummer Steve Shelley.
The quartet employ a patient, almost surreptitious pacing that makes the multiple metamorphoses these songs undergo equally as surprising on the first listen as the fifteenth. “Turn On” ambles into being, accelerates, tosses off a few verses, then marvelously crests, careening through and exploiting every aspect of its sprawling core melodies; it’s playful yet emotionally expressive, a premeditated yet free-wheeling joyousness that is somehow Consciousness’ prime directive.
One can hear this, too, in Googe’s incisive bassline anchoring “Aphrodite,” in the carefully deployed bursts of spazzed-out noise guitar, in how the band mischievously depresses the brakes. “Smoke of Dreams” spends its midsection unfurling a Sedwards guitar solo so mesmerizingly rendered that it should be hanging on a gallery wall; the martial “Cusp” moves at a more crisp, threshing tempo, giving way, eventually, to annihilating distortion. As journeys go, it sounds like Moore’s reached a happy place.