Thurston Moore has thrown us for a couple loops in the last couple years, starting with the long-time coming disbandment of Sonic Youth. Arguably one fo the most influential American bands of all time, Sonic Youth have, for many years, had a turbulent air about them, but after 2009’s noisy but excellent The Eternal, no end seemed truly apparent – that was, of course, until Moore and Sonic Youth founding member Kim Gordon ended their marriage after over 25 years together. The same year they split, Sonic Youth fleshed out an excellent instrumental score to the French independent film Simon Werner A Disparu, which touched on some of the more jazzy and melodic sides of the band we’d seen yet. Also in 2011, Moore dropped the Beck-produced solo record Demolished Thoughts, seeing Moore at his quietest and most introspective.
But a year later, in the wake of all of this personal and professional tumult, Moore announced that a new band was in the works, featuring a ragtag team of musicians from Moore’s own Ecstatic Peace! record label. Featuring Samara Lubelski (who appeared on Demolished Thoughts), John Moloney (Sunburned Hand of the Man), and Keith Wood (Hush Arbors), and Moore himself, Chelsea Light Moving gives us the exact opposite of anything that Moore would have led us to believe he was headed towards: a noise-rock record that sounds, in a lot of ways, like it was buried in a pile of Sonic Youth b-sides from the late 80’s. But at different points, the album is far too heavy to come from that era and sees Moore moving in a metal direction more than ever before. At 54, Moore doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon.
On the record, “Empires of Time” ends with a short 60’s sample of an interviewee talking about the working man’s music scene and how everything changed as soon as money was introduced to the equation. “Groovy & Linda” tells the story of a pair of hippie lovers gunned down in 1967 by a misunderstanding establishment void of peace or love. “Frank O’Hara Hit” references the untimely death of the New York poet at the hands of a dune buggy in 1966. It also mentions a couple other famed art instances occurring in the month of July including Bob Dylan’s motorcycle crash. Between the riot act cover, the spoken word Velvet Underground toss-out of “Mohawk,” and the punk closer “Communist Eyes,” it would seem that Moore has taken a bit of an obsession with the 60’s on this record. The topic has definitely made appearances in Moore’s past writing, but not in this concentration. On top of that, the band released a statement not too long ago that they would play birthday parties, weddings, or hullabaloos as long as they “[don’t] support right wing extremist NRA sucking bozo-ology.” Chelsea Light Moving have adopted the mentality of Greenwich Village circa 1964 in nearly every way but the actual sound (I doubt the Gaslight Cafe would dig their vibe). But the freedom and the youthful cynicism may speak something of Moore’s current mentality. With Sonic Youth behind him, this may be the only way he really knows how to turn a new leaf: by presenting us with a bombastic, shocking new identity that only the likes of Moore could pull off with a straight face.
Make no mistake, though – Chelsea Light Moving isn’t all imagery. The opener “Heavenmetal” is perhaps the thesis to this whole mess, mixing gorgeous melody with quiet noise under Moore’s call to “be a warrior and love life.” Under this context, the rest of the album starts to make a bit more sense. Musically, the album tosses out plenty to classic Sonic Youth, but still manages to feel progressive for Moore’s career. Interestingly, the lyrical themes are often complimented by this dichotomy of musical style. With the exception of “Heavenmetal,” when the lyrics tend towards Moore’s thoughts of remaining stagnant, the musical melodies hark back to Sonic Youth. But when he decides to take his own medicine and be a warrior, the guitars are cranked to 11 and the noise reaches new climactic heights. Moore’s work is as contemplative and thought-provoking as ever.
When Chelsea Light Moving isn’t melting your face off with heavy metal, they an exhibition for Thurston’s one-of-a-kind songwriting style. Tunes like “Alighted” alternate between a large handful of different themes and sections all jumbled together like a funhouse. Other places, like “Burroughs,” Thurston just gives us some downright fantastic rock tunes. While Chelsea Light Moving in a lot of ways is a shocker and a bit standoffish, at the end of the day, it is in no way a disappointment.
Chelsea Light Moving is out now on Matador Records. See Thurston and the gang this Saturday, March 23, at Neumos! Tickets are available here.