Thurston Moore corralled a pretty impressive roster of collaborators for his third album, the acoustic Demolished Thoughts. Beck produces, and he’s in full Mutations mode, creating a warm backdrop for Moore’s strummy laments. Joey Waronker drums gently when called upon, Samara Lubelski adds swirls of violins over his vocals, and Mary Lattimore punctuates these songs with graceful flourishes of harp. All in all, it’s a spirited group that backs him with sensitivity and style.
As good as this makeshift band is, however, it can’t do enough to give these spectral songs much life or to put Moore’s main band out of mind. As the de facto frontman for veteran New York noise outfit Sonic Youth, he seems a bit out of place without Steve Shelley, Lee Ranaldo, and Kim Gordon. It’s interesting to hear him stretch, to entertain new ideas in a new setting, but Demolished Thoughts only underscores how inescapable that band is; it might as well say “Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore” on the spine.
In other words, these acoustic songs sound like demos awaiting full treatment. Demolished Thoughts either cannot or will not go far enough to distance the singer from his day job. Moore has always had a distinctive approach to melody, determined by his limited vocal range: he favors minor keys and snaky progressions, such that his lines often fold into each other in unusual ways. That idiosyncrasy works well within Sonic Youth, creating an evocative contrast with the rambunctious music. But in a solo acoustic setting, it blends all the songs together and makes them sound overly familiar—more like covers than originals. How much better would “Circulation” sound backed by Ranaldo’s guitar scribbles, Shelley’s snare-and-shaker drumbeats, and Gordon’s antagonistic bass lines?
Of course, Moore is going for something very different than he’s able to do with Sonic Youth, and while the adventurous spirit of the album is not just refreshing but by now expected of him, he just doesn’t sound as compelling on acoustic guitar as he does on electric. This album has the further disadvantage of following by only a few weeks another, better acoustic album by an alt-rock guitar god—namely, J Mascis’ Several Shades of Why. Whereas that album revealed the Dinosaur Jr frontman’s surprising musical and lyrical range, Demolished Thoughts only reveals Moore’s particular limitations.