November 24, 2007

Now Playing: Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore: Trees Outside The Academy (Ecstatic Peace)

Produced by John Agnello
Recorded at Bisquiteen, Amherst, MA, Springtime

This is a pleasant surprise. Sure, Thurston has made a whole bunch of records over the years outside of Sonic Youth, but they are, for better or worse, mostly of the avant/noise/improv variety. I love that stuff, but it is, admittedly, not for everyone. Trees Outside The Academy, on the other hand, is Thurston’s first collection of actual songs since 1995’s Psychic Hearts (Geffen). Interestingly, this particular collection songs is (mostly) built around Thurston’s acoustic guitar strumming, accompanied by Steve Shelley’s drums, and Samara Lubelski’s ghostly counterpoint on violin and background vocals; the electric guitar heroics, where necessary, are reserved for Dinosaur, Jr.’s J. Mascis, at whose home studio Trees Outside the Academy was recorded.

The somber, Neil Young meets Beck in Downtown NYC via leafy Northampton vibe is immediately and comfortably evocative. The whole package is chock full of charming, archival photos of Thurston as a teenager and young rock star and gives off more than a whiff of wistfulness and nostalgic looking back. You know, maybe they should change their name to Sonic Coots. (Ha. Ha.)

Well, that’s OK, I’m an old coot myself.

Fortunately, the songs are good – I find myself putting this on playback machine again and again. The final track, “Thurston @13,” is exactly what it says: a thirteen-year-old Thurston, alone in his bedroom in Bethel, Connecticut, creating audio theater with only his voice, various household items (an aerosol can, coins, etc.), and a cassette deck. “There” he intones after each hyper-banal, yet heroically immortalized “event.” At one point, Thurston ponders, “what am I going to do next for your ears to taste.” Precociously arresting yet profoundly silly, this little snippet of tape is the primordial ooze from which Sonic Youth’s whole aesthetic would be founded: words + noise = drama.

Yet, with all the apparent irony and pretension combined with large doses outright goofiness, the question surrounding Sonic Youth has always been: just how sincere is any of it? Personally, I’ve always tended to give them the benefit of the doubt – and I’ve been a fan since 1985. I don’t believe Sonic Youth could have survived for so long with their basic integrity still intact without at least being somewhat sincere, at least where it counts. The goofiness just lets you know they that, thank god, they don't take themselves too seriously. Trees Outside The Academy sounds to me like a mature statement, personal and heartfelt.

John Agnello’s production gives the whole thing a unifying sound despite the ragtag, ad hoc recordings and, at barely 40 minutes, this would make a really nice-sounding LP. Unfortunately, only a limited edition picture-disc is available. Uh…I might have to pass on that one, what with the notoriously poor sound quality of picture-discs.

In any event, this is a really good CD.

Thurston is playing a brief tour with a band consisting of Steve Shelley, Samara Lubelski, Chris Brokaw, and Matt Heyner. Check ‘em out if they come to your town. Sadly, no dates here in Nashville…


November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It's all about food. And, being grateful for life's blessings. Winter is just around the corner, so let's celebrate!


November 11, 2007

More Pictures of Nashville Architecture

I've been told that this stretch of Second Avenue North from the courthouse to Broadway is the longest contiguous section of pre-Civil War architecture in the South. (After all, Sherman burned cities to the ground during his long march.) I have been unable to verify this factoid, however.

I had to run an errand in East Nashville and took a couple of snaps along the way:

Locals refer to the BellSouth Tower as the "Bat-Building." Ha. Ha.

November 3, 2007

Now Playing: Miles Davis

After twelve years, the eighth and final Miles Davis on Columbia box set, The Complete On The Corner Sessions (Sony/Legacy) has at last been released in all of its lavishly garish, embossed-metal glory:

This 6-CD box set goes a long way towards rationalizing an important, but critically neglected period in Miles Davis’s career. For example, the unedited tracks from 1972 that would become On the Corner are a revelation: inspired by the magnetic tape compositions of Karlheinz Stockhausen and musique concrete, the original LP was full of startling jump-cuts and electronic processing, while the unedited tracks are beatifically extended, trance-inducing jams.

After the tabla and sitar experiments of On The Corner, Miles’s working band from 1973-1975 featured electric guitarist Pete Cosey - jazz, funk, and coruscating heavy metal converged, as demonstrated on the legendary live albums Dark Magus, Agharta, and Pangaea. It’s nice to have all of the studio sessions together in one place since this material had been haphazardly scattered across disparate releases. Plus, hours of unreleased tracks shed further light on what had always been a murky discographical era.

As the liner notes intimate, this was, in fact, a particularly dark time in Miles Davis’s life, full of drug abuse, catastrophic health problems, and domestic turmoil and that kind of heaviness certainly pervades most of these tracks. Accusations that Miles was somehow “selling out” with this music never made any sense to me; this stuff is intense!

By the end of 1975, Miles had retired from music altogether. That is, until his “comeback” in 1981. . .but it was never quite the same.

Truly, a monumental body of work, the now completed series does look suitably impressive on the shelf:

[Sam had requested more photographs of records, so here you go, Sam!]