Release Date: Oct 21, 2014
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Say what you will about the man's personal life, but Thurston Moore is one hell of a musician. Nowhere is this more evident than on The Best Day, the art rock elder statesman's fourth solo album and first since moving to London in early 2013. Following more in the footsteps of late-career Sonic Youth than his recent foray with Chelsea Light Moving, Moore's new eight-song album is a record filled with complementary guitar lines ("Speak to the Wild"), dissonant post-punk thrashers (11-minute epic "Forevermore" and the upbeat "Detonation") and poetic, punk rock ponderings (the Darby Crash-alluding "Germs Burn").
Here’s a question that every indie rocker can answer: “Where were you when Sonic Youth broke up?” Yes, it was publicly stated to be a hiatus; however, the dissolution of a marriage isn’t exactly a trite issue, hence it being three years running since the closest thing that old school alternative music had to rock stars. Not that this has slowed down Thurston Moore. The singer, guitarist, and ubiquitous songwriter of the band that birthed Daydream Nation released a set of acoustic guitar rock a scant five months before the public announcement of the break-up, collaborated with Yoko Ono and ex-bandmate/ex-wife Kim Gordon on Yokokimthurston, and started a new band under Chelsea Light Moving.
Much has happened in Thurston Moore’s life since his last solo album, 2011’s ‘Demolished Thoughts’. The same year, he and Kim Gordon – his wife since 1984 and Sonic Youth co-founder – divorced. The band was placed on indefinite hold and Moore started a new project, Chelsea Light Moving, who released a decent self-titled album last year. Also in 2013, he moved to London, a place he’s always been infatuated with, to live with Eva Prinz, the woman he’d fallen in love with while married to Gordon.
There is a significant tranche of alternative-minded music lifers for whom the break-up of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon – and the dissolution of their seminal band Sonic Youth in 2011 – verged on the traumatic. It was like your beloved parents getting divorced, only worse. These people were far cooler. They understood.
In the years since Thurston Moore’s 2011 album, Demolished Thoughts, the framework surrounding the former Sonic Youth frontman has collapsed: the US alt-rock godfather relocated to the artisan bread capital of east London, and his aloof cool was skewed by his very public split from Kim Gordon. After the almost-unplugged quietude of that last album, here Moore retreats to the comfort of noise – that odd blanket of distortion – which is ramped up by the presence of My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. The unorthodox time signatures and an anti-everything attitude mirror the discord that made his former band a talisman for hipsters and discerning nerds everywhere – even if quite what it is Moore wishes to challenge isn’t always clear.
Thurston Moore's last two albums served, as so many solo efforts for rock frontmen do, as outlets for him to explore his quieter side. But aside from a couple of 12-string acoustic drone meditations, The Best Day, his first outing since Sonic Youth went on indefinite hiatus in 2011, finds him playing energized, accessible guitar rock that retains many elements of SY's inimitable sprawl. His crack backup band—composed of SY drummer Steve Shelley, My Bloody Valentine's Debbie Googe on bass, and second guitarist James Sedwards—is too hard-driving to tolerate Moore's tiresome experimental drone tendencies for very long, so even on the long songs, of which there are, characteristically, several, the proceedings rarely grow ponderous.
Thurston Moore’s divorce from Kim Gordon and the subsequent hiatus of Sonic Youth has no doubt left him a changed man. But it doesn’t seem to have affected his creativity. 2011 saw the release of the Beck-produced Demolished Thoughts, an acoustic set that was far from sedate. Moore went for heavy guitar explosives with last year’s self-titled debut from Chelsea Light Moving, made up of young’ns doing his bidding, which turned out to be some of the gnarliest noise he’s ever made.
The Best Day is not the first music Thurston Moore has released since becoming the most famous—and, in some circles, most reviled—divorcé in American indie-rock. It is, however, the first time he’s released a song-oriented album under his own name since his highly publicized split from long-time wife/bandmate Kim Gordon. And given that Moore’s traditionally used these solo albums to explore more intimate, emotionally resonant songcraft than Sonic Youth’s gnarled guitar jams normally accommodate, it’s not totally unreasonable to expect he’d use this opportunity to reflect upon the recent upheaval in his personal life in a more poetic way than contentious interview sound-bites allow.
At a glance, The Best Day readies itself to do what Washing Machine did for Sonic Youth’s discography in the ‘90s: a return to “form” after the brief detour through the alternative rock-leaning Goo, grunge-y Dirty and everywhere-at-once Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star, albums that were hardly the departures some have made them out to be. To wit: song lengths on The Best Day are longer on average than they were on Thurston Moore’s previous “proper” solo albums. Add to this the fact that Thurston Moore has banded together a team of higher profile musicians than ever before, including old pal Steve Shelley, My Bloody Valentine’s bassist Debbie Googe and Nought’s guitarist James Sedwards, and The Best Day becomes—before you even listen to it—Moore’s most ambitious solo album.
Though his discography is littered with dozens of explorations in noise, improv side projects, and collaborations with other fringe-dwelling artists, Sonic Youth main man Thurston Moore's most visible solo offerings are spare and often with years between them. The moody guitar rock daydream of 1995's Psychic Hearts didn't see a proper follow-up until 2007's Trees Outside the Academy. The Beck-produced 2011 effort Demolished Thoughts was decidedly more subdued, offering up whisper-thin acoustic folk and a more toned-down take on the type of instrumental experimentation Moore began crafting with Sonic Youth back in the early '80s.
It’s in Thurston Moore’s nature to provoke, antagonize, and push musical boundaries, and the results have rarely been anything short of thrilling over the course of his 30-plus-year career. He’s one of those guys of the rare Waits, Beefheart, and Zappa variety who have succeeded because of his flagrant disregard for pop music’s rigid rules, not in spite of it. Knowing that, it’s hard to get past the title of his latest solo effort without getting longtime Sonic Youth fans’ imaginations running and jumping to some understandable conclusions.
“I bought another Sonic Youth CD and it’s just noise!” exclaimed a disgusted Ellen Page as Juno in the 2007 movie. To some, the appeal of Sonic Youth’s unabashed chaos and dexterous juxtaposition of melody and discord is lost on them; critically, however, few are the bands that have enjoyed such critical amity. As one of its guiding lights, Thurston Moore was naturally endowed with those decades of goodwill, something he has very publicly almost entirely squandered in recent years.
Try as you might, you won’t find much in the way of pained post-divorce angst in Thurston Moore’s latest solo album, though that hasn’t stopped people obsessively looking for it. Moore, having swapped New York’s grimy sidewalks for the artisan-coffee-and-craft-ale paradise of Stoke Newington in north London (essentially swapping the Big Apple for the Organic Pear), and having got his art-rock noise out the way on last year's Chelsea Light Moving album, has returned to business as usual for The Best Day, only his fourth full solo record in a 30+ year career. Much DNA is shared with the more grown-up, muso-y, shoegazy end of Sonic Youth’s output, to the point long-time collaborator Steve Shelley has been flown in especially to thump the tubs behind it all.
Surprises are few on ex-Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore's latest solo LP, which finds him mining the leisurely, dissonant chug that has defined much of his work. But nobody does dissonant chug like Moore, and The Best Day offers plenty of SY-ish thrills. Now living in London, Moore has tapped simpatico locals Debbie Googe (My Bloody Valentine) and James Sedwards (experimental-rock outfit Nøught), along with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley.
Since the dissolution of Sonic Youth, the world's foremost purveyors of organized noise and guitar feedback, Thurston Moore has been busy with side projects, none of which sounded particularly like his primary band. His last album, produced with Beck, was mainly acoustic. This year's The Best Day, then, was inevitably labeled a "return to form" for Moore, as he's plugging in the guitars and once again working with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. There's a sense of familiarity to the new Thurston Moore album. Unlike his previous solo record (2011's Demolished Thoughts) this new LP sets its sights right at the space previously occupied by a New York four-piece called Sonic Youth. In fact it's not too difficult to simply see The Best Day as a follow-up to the band's potentially final record The Eternal.
There are musicians so iconic that their names can be used as adjectives without raising even an eyebrow. “That’s such a Morrissey thing to say” or “this guitar line is so Graham”; these are both legitimate sentences, which deserve official recognition in the Oxford English Dictionary. It works because some musicians are just able to project a kind of ‘themness’ onto everything they touch.
The Best Day finds Moore in “accessible” mode while still chock-full of his blazing fretwork and trademark dissonance-mongering. Joining him are SY drummer Steve Shelley, My Bloody Valentine bassist Deb Googe and guitarist James Sedwards as de facto surrogate Youths, crafting what by some measures could be viewed as the overdue successor to SY’s 2002 classic Murray Street. Not even counting the many albums he cut with SY, Moore has released scores of records since the early ‘90s ranging from collaborative free jazz projects and experimental noise/drone recordings to “proper” solo albums rooted as equally in his songwriting and singing as his guitar slinging.
Thurston Moore —The Best Day (Matador)Bright, barbed, and reverberant, the notes that Thurston Moore uses to open “Speak To The Wild,” the first song on The Best Day, are beyond familiar to anyone who has ever listened to Sonic Youth. Depending on your appetite for that signature sound, this could be a boon or a bust. Moore acknowledged in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal that “There’s a bit of Sonic Youth exhaustion factor for a lot of people.
Thurston Moore brought an end to some longstanding things in 2011: After being caught in an affair, he separated from Kim Gordon, his wife of more than 25 years and co-founder of pioneering noise-rock band Sonic Youth—which, in the aftermath of the split, met its demise as well. Such breaks in life are rarely clean, however, and Moore’s first solo record following this personal and professional schism wisely embraces a little musical carryover. Backed by former Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley (as well as talented bassist Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine), The Best Day distills elements of Moore’s early and recent work rather than forging yet another a new path.