, May 27th, 2011 08:14
The acoustic guitar has a lot to answer for. Integral though it may be to the foundation of large chunks of popular, and not-so popular, music, it's also long served as a refuge for crusty students, coffee shop folkies and a particular strain of noxious jock-folk celebrated by frat boys and embodied by the likes of Dave Matthews and John Mayer; a sound whose North American chart success has thankfully failed to replicate itself on these shores.
In more recent years, the acoustic guitar has been embraced by a large swathe of blogger approved beardies in check shirts who spend their days mistaking the instrument as a faux conduit to rootsy authenticity - "I pluck, therefore I'm real... dude" - and as a diary on which to unleash their suburban bloodletting.
It's a sorry state of affairs that at its most pedestrian tweely soundtracks another cloying indie film montage. At its worse, we're witnessing the quiet smothering of a once mighty instrument that used to kill fascists while also serving as the foundation for John Fahey's mesmerising soundscapes and was the line which Nick Drake hung the fragile beauty of his final album on.
Cheers to Kurt Vile, then. Others under the banner of weird Americana have been tottering around the edges with their guitars over the past 10 years with mixed results but it's Vile's narco-drenched mix of Dylan, Springsteen and droning ambiance that has thrust the instrument closer to the centre of the left-field spotlight then it has been for some time. Vile's work is a reminder of the instruments potential and it's a lesson not lost on Thurston Moore, who now pally-pally with the young Philadelphian, has fully embraced his acoustic side on his latest solo album, the Beck produced Demolished Thoughts.
Sonic Youth unplugged would be an easy narrative to slap on Demolished Thoughts but Moore ably steps beyond his familiar tricks here to create something forward thinking yet far warmer and accessible than normally expected from the noisenik don. Having toyed with the idea on 'Honest James' from 2007 solo outing Trees Outside the Academy, opener 'Benediction' surrenders itself fully to the pastoral with a bucolic wave of gentle melody and a lush array of strings. It's an approach that wouldn't feel out of place on Beck's Sea Change and it's evident that the producer's hand has helped guide and steer Moore away from his usual indulgences while simultaneously playing to the 52-year-old's maverick strengths.
Hence why 'Orchard Street' is a dissonant folk pop epic, tautly stretched into a heady, seven-minute fugue of repetitive notes and more sweeping strings. Think Jean-Claude Vannier goes Americana and you'll get the drift. 'Mina Loy; takes in John Fahey style finger picking – alongside atonal guitar tuning, a tactic beloved of both Moore and Fahey - to craft an eerie framework of droning textures accentuated by a lone whistle and Moore's hushed vocals. 'Circulation' does offer a glimpse of a stripped back Sonic Youth but it's a thought that's quickly brushed aside by 'Space' and closer 'January', which completes the album with a sequence of Glenn Branca meets Brytle Leaves era Drake melodies that linger long after their finish.
Moore does avant-folk is another narrative that could be slapped onto Demolished Thoughts but that wouldn't do justice to the fact that while this is a Thurston Moore album, this is first and foremost a brilliant folk-pop record. Devoid of cloying sentiment and rootsy shape throwing, it's a firm reminder that an acoustic guitar can remain accessible while offering far more than the shortsighted, rose-tinted glance back over the shoulder that has become the norm. Hallelujah.