I remember “borrowing” my Papi’s car and taking a few of my friends on an adventure up I-10 from San Antonio to Austin, Texas’s Auquafest in the early ’90s to go see The Escape from New York Tour featuring The Ramones, Debbie Harry, Tom Tom Club and Jerry Harrison all for eight bucks. The soundtrack for our adventure was my favorite Sonic Youth album Goo,. I realize looking back to that moment as I drove with my windows opened, wind in my hair with Goo blasting through the speakers of my Papi’s car that, in my heart, Sonic Youth defined the essence of freedom and expression. They are the Beat Generation, Avant Garde, the Punk and DiY movements all rolled into one chaotic blend of beautiful feedback.
Thurston Moore has always been the essence of cool to me. He had the coolest wife, Kim Gordon, and they have the ultimate marriage built on love, devotion and complete creative inspiration and fulfillment. Plus they have the coolest kid, Coco,, and they are in one of the most influential American art rock bands of the 20th Century. Now that’s a life! The thing that I respect most about Thurston Moore is that he and his band have done it their way. They have never compromised Sonic Youth’s sound and vision to appease the mainstream. They continue to break the rules in the establishment’s playbook for success, and release cutting edge works of art that sound like the beauty and color of a Jackson Pollock painting coming to life.
In 1995, Thurston released his first solo album, the much underappreciated Psychic Hearts, which was a continuation of the Sonic feedback sound that they made famous on the landmark album Daydream Nation. This year, Moore unplugged his favorite electric guitar and turned toward a direction as he tackled the acoustic guitar in Trees Outside The Academy.
Don’t worry Sonic Youth fans; Thurston Moore hasn’t gone Acoustic Alchemy on us. In fact the opening number “Frozen Gtr” has a Velvet Underground vibe. Listen for the back feeding strings in the background, which echo White Light/White Heat. The song goes into a Nirvana unplugged vibe which sounds eclectically electric. Speaking of, Moore hasn’t completely unplugged his favorite amp. There is some electric guitar in the mix courtesy of his good friend and Dinosaur Jr. leader J. Masics, but this is mostly an acoustic effort with the powerful brilliance of Thurston’s trademark riffs that you know and love so well.
While Psychic Hearts was an ode to the experimental art guitar thrashing of Thurston’s idol Yoko Ono, You can hear the influence of his heroine Patti Smith throughout Trees. Smith has always found away to keep her voice loud and raucous even during the most elegant of backbeats. Moore sounds soulful with his acoustic guitar. I love the way he blends the acoustic and electric to bring to life a quiet/loud vibe that’s reflective and potent in the same song as in “Shape in a Trance.”
The lyric that best describes this album is from “Honest James” when Thurston sings, “he rolls into the darkness and he needs you to be near.” It’s as if Moore is admitting that he carries the baggage of his electric past but he wants you to listen closer. Moore is far from a one trick pony; he embraces the acoustic guitar into his arsenal and has created a very moving album about life, loss, love and reflective devotion.
Moore still uses feedback as an introduction to “Fri/End” like a painter uses color from his pallet as texture to give his canvas a more complete sound. I love his use of strings through out. Listen to way he combines the texture like riffs along with the string arrangements that echo the experimental yet extraordinary nature of the Kronos Quartet.
The album ends with a special bonus, a track featuring Thurston Moore age 13. It is a recording of Moore spraying Lysol around the room. You can hear the imagination of this youngster who’s making noise into art, something that Thurston and Sonic Youth have perfected during their still active and engaging career. Trees is a new side of Thurston Moore that is sonically more intimate yet still has that trademark artistic rawness that we have loved from this experimental axe-man. What you are about to hear is someone embracing his roots with a new musical weapon that’s elegantly commanding you to crank it up.