Late Review / Thurston Moore / Rock N Roll Consciousness / 2017

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Thurston Moore – ‘Rock N Roll Consciousness’

While I was doing some research on this album, I found an article written by Sonic Youth’s other guitarist Lee Ranaldo, written around four years ago, and that puts some added perspective on what ‘Rock N Roll Consciousness’ is about. Writing about his teenage forays into music fandom, Lee Ranaldo has a lot of appreciation for the Grateful Dead, and writing about a 1972 concert that had just been released on video, he takes a mellow retrospective look back at one or two of his formative experiences, ( and both Ranaldo’s words and the music of the Dead themselves seem relevant when listening to Thurston Moore’s new album, whose title and sleeve design announce the album as a countercultural artefact, in the late 60s sense of the phrase. With its colourful artwork, its guru-trail title and Moore himself gazing at the camera with his yoga face, it seems as if we’re in for a lecture on cosmic awareness rather than any actual music, and certainly not the full-on detuned pyrotechnics that Sonic Youth made their reputation with.

Thurston Moore, of course, is perfectly aware of what reaction his latest album could elicit from some of his established audience, mostly the middle aged section that don’t quite remember the 70s but do remember what they thought of the rejuvenated hippy gumbo of the 90s. We are, we know, in the presence of a musician whose career has always carried with it the added cultural significance that attaches to anything emanating from what we used to call Noo Yawk, and one quite prepared to play a little joke or two with the audience. So what’s it all about, Thurston? Perhaps the titles give a clue : ‘Exalted’, ‘Cusp’, ‘Turn On’, ‘Smoke Of Dreams’, ‘Aphrodite’ … the idea is got. Basically, Moore and (former SY drummer) Steve Shelly, joined by MBV’s Debbie Goodge and sideman James Sedwards went into the studio and more or less did what they wanted to, and through some weird form of symbiosis ‘Rock N Roll Consciousness’ is A Very Important Album, with no less than the Financial Times describing it as a ‘gripping set of dynamics’.

Now, a few of you reading this will be thinking, ‘I probably know what to expect from a sort of Sonic Youthy instrumental album’ and you will not experience any form of disappointment, as an inspired sounding Moore and accomplices make the Sonic Youth album you always wanted to hear, with additional guitar solos inspired by, variously, Jerry Garcia, Carlos Santana and Peter Frampton (look him up). That’s opening eight minute instrumental ‘Exalted’, but ‘Cusp’ takes us off at a different tangent, a tour de force from drummer Steve Shelly powering a tune that recognisably originated in the Youth studios somewhere, and probably the actual best track you’ve heard from them since, I dunno, name your favourite track from ‘Sister’, ‘Goo’, even ‘Evol’. That good, today in 2017, and the same can nearly be said for ‘Turn On’, a song that contains nearly everything that made you like Sonic Youth in the first place, and it’s when an only too brief blast of guitar distortion appears and disappears as soon as it is heard that the compositional side of this music makes itself known. All those sessions jamming with Glenn Branca and Michael Gira weren’t time wasted, and ‘Rock N Roll Consciousness’ is as sculpted a work of modern composition as its creators can produce.

Of course, this is where new questions arise. It’s fifth and final track ‘Aphrodite’ that has the atonal dissonance and experimentalism, the brooding tensions and ‘kill yr idols’ nihilism that kept the original Sonic Youth away from the mainstream, and right here we need to acknowledge that while the Thurston Moore band don’t need to revisit those ideas, and that they could perform ‘Bad Moon Rising’ unplugged to similar levels of applause, that the old instincts remain, and that Thurston Moore, Steve Shelly and everyone else involved have made an album which stands comparison with anything in their back catalogue. I still don’t completely get the ‘album concept’ though, and the title seems to belong to a different album entirely, but Moore and his cohorts appear to know exactly what they’re doing on every other level. Maybe it’s just a Noo Yawk thing after all.


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