Thurston Moore

By The Fire

Aided and abetted by Deb Googe, James Sedwards and Jon Leidecker, Thurston Moore's group prove a formidable combination on new album, By The Fire, finds Julian Marszalek

The demise of Sonic Youth came just at the point when the venerable noiseniks were scaling new peaks of brilliance. Both Rather Ripped and The Eternal deserve to spoken of with the same reverence as the earlier material that made their name. Still the music that’s followed by the band’s members has proved to be equally satisfying.

And while it’s probably a romantic fancy that the albums released in Sonic Youth’s wake have egged each of them on (the quality of the music has been on an undeniable upward trajectory), it’s with By The Fire that Thurston Moore goes properly into orbit. Make no mistake; this is an album that stands shoulder to shoulder with the very best of his alma mater.

It’s as if Moore has taken stock of his highlights and consolidated them into a unified whole. Not that this should imply a re-tread of hallowed ground but more a guide of the route taken thus far and how to use it to go forward. Crucially, though it’s Moore’s name on the label, this is very much a group effort with My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe on bass, guitarist James Sedwards, Negativland’s Jon Leidecker providing electronics and The Oscillation’s Jem Doulton on drums (with Steve Shelley stepping in for one track), and London poet Radieux Radio providing most of the lyrics. A formidable combination, this band strikes with satisfying and thrilling precision throughout.

Moreover, By The Fire is an 83-minute journey that revs up, builds energy and then covers some serious aural distance. The opening one-two of ‘Hashish’ and ‘Cantaloupe’ suggest a straightforward rock album; the motorik beats and guitar chug of the former bear this out, while the latter is a direct descendant of ‘Sugar Kane’. But it’s with the epics that the true nature of By The Fire is revealed.

Clocking in at 11-minutes, ‘Breath’ is more a series of movements that interconnect to create a coherent statement. Here, bizarrely tuned and elongated chimes give way to explosive chords that yield to straight-ahead rock before making a sharp U-turn.

If the beatless guitar interplay of ‘Calligraphy’ makes for an enchanting listen, then it’s with ‘Locomotives’ that Moore and his cohorts are at their most ambitious and daring. At almost 17 minutes, this is one of those rare instances where time just flies thanks to a stretching of what guitars and drums can actually do. Layers of chords and oddly vibrating strings coalesce to sweep and wash over, while the percussion and low end act as a counterpoint. Surrender is demanded and given, which is then rewarded by shifts and moves into unexpected vistas.

Touching on pretty much every aspect of Moore’s career to date, By The Fire isn’t so much a patchwork as a seamless weaving of ambition and ability. It’s one that’s built to last.

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