ALBUMS: The Freewheeling Thurston Moore

On By The Fire, Moore and company tease his singer-songwriter muse further out

By The Fire remixed (Art: Ron Hart)

Ever since 1995’s Psychic Hearts, it’s been clear that solo singer-songwriter Thurston Moore (Group) material will strongly resemble Sonic Youth at its most accessible.

A full quarter-century later, complaining about this reality seems churlish at best. Yes, “Hashish” resembles “Sunday” from A Thousand Leaves; sure, “They Believe In Love” is slightly reminiscent of Murray Street’s “Rain On Tin”. What else would you expect?

Fact: the guitars of Moore and James Sedwards will race, squabble and chime. Fact: drummers Jem Doulton and SY’s Steve Shelley lay down deceptively stolid thwack. Fact: My Bloody Valentine member Deb Googe’s baselines are so well-embedded in the music that it’s easy to under-value them. So what? Fact: Matmos and Negativland pal Jon “Wobbly” Leidecker is contributing electronics, but perhaps my ears aren’t sharp enough to pick them out in the mix. 

Artist: Thurston Moore

Album: By The Fire

Label: Daydream Library 

★★★★ (4/5 stars)

On By The Fire – as with, to some extent, Rock ‘n’ Roll Consciousness – Moore positions his pop instincts as loss-leaders for the sorts of way-out abstractions that force listeners to think less in terms of individual, themed songs and more in terms of a singular, 82-minute aural journey that feels (for better and for worse) endless. Which is to say: evocative, murmured verses up front or at midpoint, stairway-to-nowhere whirlwinds taking up the rear or creating instrumental-only illusions.

The pastoral, prosaic “Dreamers Work” lays out a patchwork of bright, interlocking chords and wistfulness. “Locomotives” is a noisy sprawl hiding a libertine’s fiery plaint. “Breath” opens in a deceptively autumnal, reflective humor that reminded me of mid-career Silver Jews before exploding, jarringly, into a more furious gear that resolves into a defiant chug; multiple fake endings are built in. “Venus” eschews legible sentiment altogether, leaping into and beyond the abyss.

Thurston Moore 2020 (Art: Ron Hart)

Moore’s calculus here feels directly linked to our historical moment in a very unique way. He’s shepherded into being an alternate headspace that’s life-affirming, positive, and inchoate, probably because he knows that’s what most people turning to By The Fire probably need. The music is dense and intense enough that it distracts from its own tracklist, concurrent political insanity, and whatever your personal problems happen to be; the rapidly growing sonic foliage doesn’t necessarily need vocals, so the vocals appear as a sort of cheerleading for that foliage, keeping listeners committed if they weren’t already.

That’s key, because at moments Moore and his band are very much at risk of repeating the same dynamic tricks within the context of this one album – something one can’t that wasn’t the case with more experimental, essential entries in this ever-growing catalogue, like 2007’s dynamite Sensitive/Lethal or last year’s ambitious Spirit Counsel


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Raymond Cummings

Raymond Cummings is the author of books including Assembling the Lord, Crucial Sprawl, Open for Business, Notes on Idol, and Vigilante Fluxus. His writing has appeared in SPIN, The Wire magazine, The Village Voice, Splice Today, and the Baltimore City Paper. Whorl Without End, his latest collection of poetry, was independently published in January 2020.

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