Review Summary: Sonic Youth guitarist teams up with violinist, as well as a couple of old friends, on first solo acoustic disc in years.
“What you’re about to hear is something extraordinary”
At 49 years old Thurston Moore is far from a young guy, but you really wouldn’t know it. In fact, he barely looks a day over 21. That being said, Trees Outside The Academy isn’t a youthful record. It doesn’t bubble with excitement or burn with the curiosity of a newfound freedom. It doesn’t sound
like it was recorded by a 21 year old, but why would it? Why should
it? Trees starts where Sonic Youth’s Murray Street and Sonic Nurse left off, an album full of dense, sprawling, guitar rock, surprisingly coy vocals and the same cocktail of influences its predecessors utilized so well. The big difference here is arrangements; the songs are mostly acoustic guitar-based, with the drumming of Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley and the violin-stylings of Samara Lubelski rounding out the sound.
Honest James might be the album’s most accessible track. The song is held up by its original, introspective, and yet near-radio-ready guitar hook. Thurston’s vocals are subdued, with an underlying power. They come in 15 seconds past the 2 minute mark. Backed with a beautiful female voice, Thurston gives off a “One More Cup of Coffee” vibe, but the chord changes are far too dark, the vocals too longing. Yeah. Thurston certainly makes a good impression on a critical ear with the album’s first half; pop it’s not, but Trees Outside the Academy is certainly one of the more listenable efforts from its creator (and this is coming from a fan.) Granted, it’s far from the most interesting, but listenable is certainly an apt description. Then American Coffin comes along. Beginning with almost a full minute of free form noise before descending into another 3 of desolate piano playing, the song could easily frighten off the casual listener, but for others, could be the album’s saving grace. Regardless, Coffin, the album’s de facto centerpiece makes for a clear distinction between the albums fantastic opening half to its slightly less good (for lack of a better word) closing half.
Perhaps the second half of the CD’s best track comes in the form of the 6 minute long instrumental, Trees Outside The Academy. Thurston’s renowned guitar heroics are on full display here, but the real star of the show is [Dinosaur Jr’s] J Mascis, who makes his presence more than known with a bombastic guitar assault midway through the piece, and during an appropriately trudgey section of the song. The album was recorded in Mascis’ home studio, so it seems only fair that he put his own stamp on the record, in one way or another. Or perhaps the best song on the second half isn’t even a song at all. Thurston@13 certainly contradicts my introduction, a hilariously carefree look into the mind of the future Indie powerhouse before everything happened. Recorded on cassette tape and dug up decades later, 13 really proves how little Moore has aged over the years. He still has the same cool drawl, the same sharp wit, and apparently, the same need to entertain. Trees Outside the Academy, as a whole, is not the musician’s best work, but it’s worth the listen for anyone interested.
“What you have heard is me wasting time, again asking myself inside, ‘Why the *** am I doing this?’”