Something Old / Something New

Thurston Moore/ Father John Misty

Album: rock n roll consciousness

Artist: Thurston Moore

Release: Ecstatic Peace! Records, April, 2017

Within the first two minutes of the opening song “Exalted,” the ever-familiar rhythm of Thurston Moore’s guitar craft comes sweeping through. Throughout my formidable years of youth and college adventures, the New York-bred Sonic Youth buzzed in the background. Albums like Goo, Daydream Nation, and even the later Sonic Nurse mashed into my psyche, and in some strange alchemy, helped shape me into the listener that I am today. Sonic Youth’s songs were/are just plain rad, and the vibe put through the speakers or headphones has always been exciting and different. Sonic Youth formed in 1981 and is made up of Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Kim Gordon (bass guitar, vocals, guitar), Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals),  and Steve Shelley (drums). Since 2011 they’ve been on a “hiatus” due to the split of Thurston Moore and wife/bandmate Kim Gordon. “The band is a democracy of sorts, and as long as Kim and I are working out our situation, the band can’t really function reasonably,” stated Moore in 2014. Personally, I’ll continue to hold my breath with the hopes of getting a chance to see the group reunite and tour sometime in the future.

There might be something in that sweet, soft water of New York. That something in the old water lines and calcium deposits that haunt the underground, and have since Prohibition. The same something that makes the pizza and bagels in NYC the best. The same something that The Velvet Underground digested day in and day out. The same something that washed the curly locks of the New York Dolls. That same something is in that gritty sound of Sonic Youth. You can’t bleed it out. Don’t want to put a leech on the heel of that sound. Don’t try to wash it off. Like an old jean jacket that just keeps looking better the more you get it dirty; New York rock-n-roll.

rock n roll consciousness is the fifth solo album from Thurston Moore since Sonic Youth split in 2011.  Having heard his previous 4 solo albums, this one is sticky. rock n roll consciousness in its entirety has only five tracks. By the time the fifth track on rock n roll consciousness ends, it feels like it may have been 50. The songs stretch out like a cat doing yoga, and bake for 10 minutes a pop. One of my favorites on the album “Turn On” (song 3) begins with a melodic riff, accompanied with non-distorted electric guitars, and just builds for the next 10 minutes. The pace is pleasant and easy to digest. Thurston Moore’s soft vocals jump in 3 minutes into this jam. Fuzzed guitars blend in and out of the melodic hooks, and the song goes for a long walk from there with a great guitar solo. 10 minutes fly by and I wish the song could would go on for another 10.

The fourth song “Smoke of Dreams” includes production from Paul McCartney and Adele collaborator, Paul Epworth, and is mixed by Randall Dunn in the birthplace of the grunge music scene, Seattle.

The album features My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe on bass guitar and Sonic Youth alum Steve Shelley on the drums. You can almost hear the friendship between those drums and that guitar as the album goes on. On rock n roll consciousness, Moore, to me, sounds comfortable and confident, ready to tackle whatever life throws at him next.  After 20 years of personal enjoyment of everything Sonic Youth, this album reminded me of why I am a fan, and why I should continue to be.

—Dan McCauley

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Album: Pure Comedy

Artist: Father John Misty

Release: Sub Pop Records, April, 2017

I have no tolerance for hipsters—and I work in Boulder, home of organically-grown artisanally-curated  pretentious  preciosity. I was over the whole lumberjack-in-a-$500-shirt look before it even began.  And while we’re at it, I have no interest in hearing the singer/songwriter sons and daughters of orthodontists or college psych profs plaintively moan about just how rough they’ve had it, and how no one understands them.

I understand you, you privileged, pampered little twits. I just don’t CARE.

Phew. I feel better now.

So:  given that mindset, you can predict how I felt about Father John Misty. To be clear: I viewed him as yet another beard in a fedora who had given himself an impossibly-twee fake name. Yippee.

For whatever reason, Josh Tillman donned that new name like a costume. In his former life as drummer for Fleet Foxes, he contributed to sweet, melodic, dreamy music with hints of psychedelic-era Love or Beach Boys. As Father John,  he seems to have adopted a persona which provides him with—well, a pulpit from which to preach.

Imagine my shock as I discovered that I liked his latest album, Pure Comedy. Two things predisposed me to that point of view even before I heard the whole thing: first, he gave a sardonic and self-critical interview to Rolling Stone (yes, I still subscribe—but I get it for FREE), and I’m all about sardonic and self-critical. That interview surprised me, and showed him to be someone who is not just aware, but self-aware—and those are not characteristics I expect to find in the hipster toolkit. Having said that, do I endorse some of his lifestyle choices? Not just no: hell, no. He sounds about as responsible as Harry Nilsson and John Lennon on their lost weekend.

Second, I heard a cut from the album on the radio, “When the God of Love Returns, There’ll Be Hell to Pay”. I heard it without knowing who it was, and learned only by accident who’d  performed it. It was an unexpectedly serious piece of work, both lyrically and musically, amidst the pop pop that preceded and followed it. The somber piano, angry lyrics and somewhat mournful  vocal reminded me of Randy Newman’s early albums from the Van Dyke Parks/ Lenny Waronker era. And that’s not a bad thing.

I’m not going to go through  the album cut by cut; I don’t have the patience to do that, and you’d likely disagree with my assessments, anyway. The opener/title cut sets the tone, with full, bombastic  orchestration (yes, kids: REAL INSTRUMENTS) the likes of which has all but disappeared from recent popular music. “Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before the Revolution” brought to mind Goodbye Yellow Brick Road-era Elton John in both its wistful tone and its lush orchestration.

Just listen. There will undoubtedly be cuts you’ll find smug and overbearing—I did. Who cares? I can’t remember the last time I heard a mainstream record with this much intelligence, even when being infuriating. I also can’t remember the last time I heard a top-100 album that was this beautifully produced. While it’s not an audiophile-darling recording, it is a good-sounding record in spite of some obvious digital echo and artifacts, and it’s a joy to hear intricate, layered arrangements featuring (here I go again) real instruments.

I’m completely shocked to hear myself say this—but for me, this is a piece of work that is far more sophisticated and adult than anything I’ve heard in popular music in years. Give it a shot.

—Bill Leebens