Thurston Moore
Demolished Thoughts

As the longtime elder statesman for all things noisy and left of the dial, Sonic Youth guitarist and Ecstatic Peace label principal Thurston Moore has managed to straddle the rockist and avant garde realms simultaneously for more than three decades. While he’s dirtied his fingers with many projects outside (as well as inside) the SY fold, one has to assume that those bearing his own name have been his most, well, personal statements. With those records ranging in scope from sculpted explorations of sound and discordance to seeming companion pieces to Sonic Youth’s alt-rock oeuvre, Moore’s varied output has reflected his inherent multiplicity.

Moore’s first solo album, 1995’s Psychic Hearts, was very much in keeping with the Sonic Youth records of the time (it was released between Experimental Jetset, Trash & No Star and Washing Machine). On the other end of the spectrum was 2008’s Sensitve/Lethal, a cacophonous record consisting mostly of two 20-minute-plus slabs of manipulated noise. But Demolished Thoughts, Moore’s latest record, probably most closely resembles 2007’s Trees Outside Academy, though even that album seems rambunctious by comparison. By most standards, this record is the most conventional music Moore has ever made. In fact, were it not for Thurston’s distinctive narcoleptic croon, there would be little to tie Demolished Thoughts to his other work. While the tone of “Orchard Street” is “Sonic Youth–like,” Moore has here eschewed noise for mellifluous strings plied to his own acoustic guitar. As such, songs like the snoozy opener, “Benediction,” and pliant “Blood Never Lies” reveal Moore’s softer side to not be all that compelling. Throughout listening to Demolished Thoughts, one yearns for an outburst of some sort, but one never comes. Maybe Thurston should be applauded for stepping outside his comfort zone, but then again, no one’s ever turned to him for easy listening. Demolished Thoughts isn’t so much a bad record, but one that’s simply inconsequential.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Circulation”

D. Charles Speer & the Helix
Leaving the Commonwealth
Thrill Jockey

Somewhere in the soggy hinterlands where English Stonehenge-folk, Texas boogie-country, Civil War reenactment, and outré psychedelics cook on low heat resides Brooklyn’s D. Charles Speer and the Helix, a quintet pegged on the burly sing-speak baritone of Dave Shuford (see also: No Neck Blues Band). Leaving the Commonwealth is the group’s fourth (and by far best) long-player, a sprawling nine-song set that pulls off the rare conjuring-while-not-aping feat with grace, bounce, and charisma. There’s homage running throughout here, to be certain: everything from the Incredible String Band to the International Submarine Band, Jerry Jeff Walker, as well as the looming specter of (’71-’74 era) Grateful Dead. But Shuford and company (which includes piano monster Hans Chew and Marc Orleans, who has done time in Sunburned Hand of the Man) are far to wise to leave matters to mere tribute. A meandering bridge here, an abrupt break there, a WTF? dirgey turnaround—the glue that holds Leaving the Commonwealth together at the seams is thankfully tenuous and keeps a patient listener on their toes. “Days in the Kitchen” and “Cumberland” exude the kind of fried dexterity that you’d hear Moby Grape make, and “Freddie’s Lapels” is a bar-boogie burner that nonchalantly veers off into an astral Kraut-like plane. (Perhaps now we know what it would have sounded like had Can ever backed up Tony Joe White.) Don’t let the Brooklyn address sway anything here: Shuford and the Helix are well-steeped in their ethnomusicology, but not slaves to it. Their ability to nimbly march through the kudzu makes Leaving the Commonwealth a ride filled with many memorable diversions.
Jerry Dannemiller

MP3: “Freddie’s Lapels”


There’s an unwritten rule in indie rock which maintains that any sense of sports fanaticism must be kept under wraps, not to be mixed with the music, unless of course you want to lose any cache already established with your band. As much as I’m a fan of sports (and Sports, the 1984 Huey Lewis album), I tend to agree that there’s not much wiggle room for tunes about Barry Bonds and Brett Favre if you’re looking for a modicum of hipness. For the Bay Area’s Nodzzz, looking, sounding or being “cool” was never part of the plan. After all, their first single was the universally unhip “I Don’t Wanna (Smoke Marijuana).” Now they’ve gone ahead and proclaimed their obsession with baseball by naming their second album Innings and gone a step farther by playing the Giants’ radio broadcasts right through the middle of “I’m Not a Wanderer.” A betting man might even portend that if the trio had to choose between a ballgame and a night in Peter Buck’s living room, they’d choose the former.

But Innings shows that the time away from the recording studio—whether it was spent making wax packs a fetish item or spent on the road in each other’s company mastering the art of the plinko guitar solo—gave the band a fresh perspective on their patented brand of skittering geek-pop. Part of Nodzzz’s charm is that they write deceptively simple songs, with extremely quotidian, almost goofy, themes. Here there are calls to “Always Make Your Bed” and “Time (What’s It Gonna to Do?),” and Innings’ songs are even shorter and simpler, but have a much greater impact. With 14 songs in fewer than 25 minutes, it’s hard to distinguish how the band has grown. Owing as much to the Dead Milkmen as they do to REM, Nodzzz’s deception lays within playful guitar volleys. Even on the brief, punchy “(Low) Energy” you can hear the increasing complexity of their riffs, with off-notes tacking themselves to the perimeter and quirky bends and shifts adjusting to the sparse arrangements. That’s not to say that Nodzzz have replaced melody with tablature. Nothing has been removed—things have only been sharpened—and the additional dimension gleaned from their love of baseball and the extra practice time indie-cult status has allowed has only made them that more likable.
Kevin J. Elliott

Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi

Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) has a new album, and that album, Rome is certainly adventurous, but definitely a mixed bag. If you’re a really big Ennio Morricone fan, this could either satiate your thirst for more work of that type or infuriate you with its paltry imitations. Burton and collaborator Daniel Luppi went to great lengths to legitimize their efforts, hiring some musicians who played Morricone’s own scores, and snagging a couple of vocal assists from Jack White, the current flag-bearer for old, weird America. Unfortunately, the music these talented folks apply to their labor is less Spaghetti-Western and more Red Dead Redemption. (Notice how I resisted making any The Good, the Bad and the Ugly jokes there.) Actually, Red Dead’s soundtrack stands on its own a lot better than this one does.

Opener “The Theme of Rome” gets both the Morricone sound and texture right, but that’s the last time the album does so. The remainder varies from the doldrums of “Morning Fog” to the mod-country of “The Gambling Priest” to the slightly different gloom of “Black,” which, like every song Norah Jones graces, sounds like a lightweight Portishead outtake. There are gestures of authenticity all over—in the bass tone, the glockenspiels, and the lyrics in lines like “plow on the farm, train on the tracks, tracks on my arm” (“The Rose with a Broken Neck”)—but hardly a speck of it bears repeated listening. Only the Jack White showcase “Two Against One” seems like it could have any future life.

Since 2005, Danger Mouse has worked with MF Doom, Cee-Lo, the Black Keys, Beck, Sparklehorse, and James Mercer (of the Shins), and is now in the midst of his collaboration with U2. He’s won a Grammy and been named Producer of the Decade by Paste. And in his downtime, he’s been working on this soundtrack in want of a film, or at least a narrative. I like to imagine there’s something greater in the works that will capitalize on what Burton’s learned from this lengthy experience. I’m afraid, however, that Rome sounds less like the culmination of years of work and more like the first step on the path to something else.
Matt Slaybaugh

Drag City

Like on her past records, Annabel Alpers (a.k.a. Bachelorette) has found a balance between natural and fabricated sounds for her self-titled album. Here, her honeyed coo is matched to chirping synths and synthetic clicks and clacks, with the whole coming off like Yaz for the 21st century. And as with Yaz, it is the humanistic mien that shines through. This is particularly evident on “The Light Seekers,” a blend of earthy sentiments and a folkish melody which could just as well have been plucked out on an autoharp as on Alpers’ bevy of machines. Bachelorette’s electronic frost is continuously melted by the the warmth of its emotional radiation. Similarly, it is often the matching of polarities that has the greatest impact; when the instrumentation takes on an organic bent, on the minimalistic “The Last Boat’s Leaving,” she is able to take on greater abstraction in the lyrical content. It is only when Alpers veers away from this dichotomy, as on “Generous Spectre,” where she dilutes her greatest asset (her voice) using a vocoder, that the album falters. As such, this is an album that succeeds on so many levels—visceral, cerebral and in its aesthetic—that it’s impossible not to find something to like in it.
Stephen Slaybaugh

MP3: “Blanket”