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Thurston Moore: Psychic Hearts

Thurston Moore: Psychic Hearts

Release Date:2006

By Raymond Cummings | Posted 4/5/2006

Sonic Youth discussions unfailingly pit one record or era against another. The debate often addresses the bratty disposability of the NYC foursome’s lyrics, or the fact that their wordless supernova guitar excursions generally speak volumes more than what often scan as—to quote the band’s “Skip Tracer”—“the poetic truths of high-school journal keepers.” In this sense, the Sonic Youth side projects of the past 15 years have largely trumped Sonic Youth sides proper—especially those involving guitarists Lee Renaldo and Thurston Moore.

Since Moore’s solo records and collaborations lean away from avant-pop and toward the abrasive or fractured, Psychic Hearts is a bit of a wild card in his oeuvre—essentially a Sonic Youth record without Renaldo, Kim Gordon, or the usual pleasing torrents of overloaded-amp noise. Originally released in 1995, this no-frills reissue plays like the soundtrack to an updated, Moore-ized Rock’n’Roll High School, trundling along on Youth drummer Steve Shelley’s dependable but unsurprising backbeat. Hearts’ standouts demand attention despite Moore’s throwaway lyrical tough talk: see his grumbling riffs and effects-pedal whizz-pow on “Patti Smith Math Scratch,” the smoldering “Female Cop,” and the hushed vocals and acoustic guitar of “Cherry’s Blues.” But Hearts achieves real profundity when Moore opts to let his fingers do the talking. Over 20 spellbinding minutes, “Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars” teases stratosphere-high, pleading guitar notes into a sloppy, sideways jam session.

Recorded by Moore, Mats Gustafsson, and Jim O’Rourke during a 2002 record-buying binge in Tokyo, Live in Japan, Vol. 1 swings toward the other, more “out” end of Moore’s spectrum. Here the trio fuses its considerable energy—Moore’s guitars, Gustafsson’s speaking-in-tongues sax, O’Rourke’s sometimes spectral, sometimes jittery synths—into a mottled whine or the crackle of a clenched lightning bolt just waiting to be hurled. The explosion never comes, but Diskaholics sustain an atmosphere of frustrated, crackling tension for almost 40 minutes, a sense that catastrophe is imminently palpable, just over the horizon. In doing so, they say more about life at this point in history than all of Sonic Youth’s attempts at teenage empathy could ever hope to.

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