Sonic Youth's chief noise merchant, Thurston Moore, steps outside the SY university on his new solo record, Trees Outside The Academy. The path doesn't lead too far from campus, but it does afford an interesting view of some familiar territory. Trees' style and song structure provide easily recognizable signposts to most devotees, but its instrumentation diverges just enough to lend a healthy breath of fresh air. Here, SY's tortured guitars are largely replaced by their finger-picked acoustic cousins, which, instead of dueling against one another, are set against a backdrop of tastefully arranged strings. Moore's voice, usually a smooth counterpoint to the waves of guitar-violence delivered by his day-job band, slides very nicely into the groove of this decidedly laid back approach.
The record opens with "Frozen Gtr," a song that would be at home on any recent SY record, and actually draws a hint of the ominous out of the violins. It's an excellent song to set the stage for this trip. Following that are "The Shape Is In A Trance," which is classic Thurston Moore, but turned way down, and "Honest James," which is probably about as close as Moore will ever get to folk music, but with lovely backing vocals by Christina Carter it's close enough.
Trees, which was recorded at J. Mascis' house, and to which J. contributed some excellent guitar work, is a remarkably consistent record. There are only a couple of missteps, including "American Coffin," which opens with a fairly standard SY barrage of distortion and devolves into fairly amateurish piano improv, and "Thurston @ 13," which isn't a song, but a recording of exactly what its title suggests. Nevertheless, there are plenty of standouts to be found. "Wonderful Witches + Language Meanies" is an outright rocker that would've been perfect for wife Kim Gordon had it made it to a Sonic Youth record, and "Never Day" has a bit of a lilting melody that sails gently on a soft current of big sound. My favorite track is probably "Fri/End," which is bright and nearly reaches the point of "popness" as it shuffles along like some lost Pavement track.
All in all, this is a very nice release that has achieved a pretty good rotation in my iPod. It's nice to know that even in middle age, a former youth can still be Sonic.
MP3: Thurston Moore - "Fri/End" from Trees Outside The Academy.
Check out the BBC's video interview about Trees below and stream a few other tracks here.