Review Summary: We love the jams, and the jams run free..
The first two-thirds of Kim Gordon’s memoir Girl in a Band
made so much casual mention of rubbing shoulders with 80’s New York’s artistic genius, that the reader might have felt quartered by the gloomy turn the book took in its closing dissection of Gordon and Moore’s failed marriage and working partnership, one of the most enduring and revered in all of rock n’ roll. The separate output of the two since their dissolution has seen both of them retreat to the strong suits that they each lent Sonic Youth all these years. Gordon’s Glitterbust and Body/Head have been stewing in atonal ambience and intermittently aggro rock, while Moore’s 2014 subdued and largely aimless The Best Day
was perhaps a little too eager in expressing how content and packed with priority he’s been in the wake of his relationship.
By contrast, Rock n Roll Consciousness
sees him step back into the full-bodied electric cataclysms he’d first made his name in. Despite the album’s Free Lovin’ title, its latter-day flower child tie-dye cover art, or Moore’s own lyrical odes to unnamed all-exalting romance, the music itself is heaving with depressive turns. It’s also easily the most convergent effort Moore has put out before or since the Youth split. Consciousness
is not bogged down by either rudderless noise schisms or airy acoustic dirges, a good picture of how affecting this sort of music can be when you allow pieces to breathe without drifting.
Though every song on Consciousness
holds that patented Branca skeletal strumming that Sonic Youth have explored from just about every direction, the more nuanced guitar-work here sees Moore forgo his usual tack of two-man interplay in prolonged drone and resonance. Instead he chooses to stick closer to the kind of melancholic abandon Neil Young poured into his 70’s electric output. The solos slice through the songs often and like a honed trench knife. It never feels myopic or self-gratifying. In fact, if anything, it lends Consciousness
a much more normalized tint than the bulk of Moore’s guitar pyrotechnics, both on his own and within the Ranaldo-Gordon paradigm he’d worked with for most of his life. On Smoke of Dreams
in particular, Moore has seemingly written the most straightforward mid-tempo rock song of his career. Despite its traditional lean, Dreams
is a marvel, a show of deliberate unravel, airtight guitar, and Moore’s ageless half-spoken alto/tenor that does little to reveal the nearly-60-year old behind it.
Three of the five tracks on Consciousness
stride past the six-minute mark without batting an eye-lash, but for all that heft, the album feels so lean in its singular focus, that it never becomes a meandering slog. Moore finds balance better than on any of his past solo work, and most everything falls in place here; from the relentless pin prick chug of Cusp
, to the crazed doom metal breakdown that smashes up the middle of Exalted
, to the meaty no-wave fits that traverse closer Aphrodite
Given Moore and Gordon’s age and collective resentment and injury, it’s unlikely that fans will ever live through a new Sonic Youth record seeing the light of day. And though unending streaks of radical experimentation would likely present a better image of a recuperating divorcee, it’s a small pleasure to see Moore do a slight retread and ply a trade at the kind of joyously dissonant racket he first cut his teeth on.