For a dude who’s been jamming shit in between the strings and pickups of electric guitars and then testing the results under ear-damaging amplification, you’d think that you’d be able to blueprint what a Thurston Moore solo record is going to sound like before you sit down with it. So imagine how unsettling it is on that initial spin of Moore’s second “proper” solo effort when the first instrument you hear is the long drone of a violin.
Seconds after, the other musical consistent enters: an acoustic guitar. Now, I know that may frighten some and I understand why. After all, there’s about a million other organic offerings out there that merely use the gimmick to try and cover up every half-baked idea still “in development.” Moreover, who wants to hear a solo album comprised of material that isn’t ready for making the leap from bedroom rehearsal to the Sonic Youth rehearsal space?
Thankfully and impressively, Thurston Moore’s Trees Outside The Academy doesn’t sound like leftovers, also-rans, or not-quite-there’s. The hollowbody feel is both conversational and full of purpose; these aren’t final run-throughs before Moore feeds it through a Marshall and brands it with a Sonic Life stencil. Instead, it’s a well-intended document that feels complete even in this unadorned state.
Moore’s understated delivery (he seldom works up from a “just woke up” stance) gives the album a personal feel even when he’s not divulging a damn thing. So aside from the acoustic guitar, there is very little here that hints at why this would all qualify as “solo” material. But whatever: I dig the light and airy feel of this album to the point where I’ve reached for it on more than a few occasions.
There are moments of lively electric current, but they feel appropriately placed and well intended. While his first solo effort, Psychic Hearts, came during a period of personal growth (literally), Trees Outside The Academy seems constructed of an urge to let us in on an incubatory creative spark during a downtime in Sonic Youth’s schedule. And speaking of: Academy stacks up against some of S.Y.’s most recognized efforts and it continues with the band’s more recent critical upswings.