J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Now Departing

Thurston Moore
Trees Outside the Academy
(Ecstatic Peace ; 2007)


On the heels of a late-period revival of sorts (from a band that never really went away in the first place), Sonic Youth has really positioned themselves as one of the premiere elder statesmen of indie-rock. Closing in on 25 years since their debut release, they've managed to create a series of albums starting with 2002's Murray Street (and, I would also argue, including 1998's A Thousand Leaves) that has rejuvenated more popular and critical interest in the band. So, with all that, it isn't a bad time at all for Thurston Moore, Sonic Youth's tallest member, to release his first major solo release since 1995's Psychic Hearts.

There is nothing here not to love for fans of Sonic Youth - Moore is one of that band's most crucial architects and it's no surprise that his solo work would sound similar to his contributions to the band. Add to the mix Steve Shelley, Sonic Youth's drummer, playing throughout the record and you've essentially got half the band here all ready. The other major player in this mix is violinist and vocalist Samara Lubelski. The violin steps in at times for Moore's missing guitar counterparts, undergirding his largely acoustic guitar work with the larger flights of fancy usually confined to Moore or Lee Ranaldo's guitars. And this becomes key for making the record sound as whole as it does. This is a laid back affair in a lot of ways and without Lubelski's contributing work, the record's sound would be sparse, less intimate and ultimately uninteresting.

As it is, this is the Sonic Youth record for people who have long had problems with the band's tendencies for noise. While a few dissonant numbers exist, they are tempered by their ethereal surroundings. Even the long stretches of guitar workouts are limited here to more controlled, beautifully arranged pieces that fit seamlessly into the music. This is a gorgeous record and well worth repeated, excited listens.

Rating: E(xceptional)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Decide for Yourself:

Thurston Moore - The Shape is In a Trance

Thurston Moore - Honest James

Thurston Moore - Never Day


_________________

Oakley Hall
I'll Follow You
(Merge ; 2007)


Oakley Hall has been building a sound rooted in disparate elements since their inception. When you're founded by a founding member of one of the more forward thinking rock acts of the 00s (Oneida), you're bound to have something interesting going on. But when you're mixing those elements with country and Southern rock, you're bound to risk tripping a time or two along the way. Fortunately for listeners, so far it's been a consistent road for Oakley Hall. The one-two punch of last year's Second Guessing and the few-months-later Gypsum Strings paved the way for something big. The albums still had moments that seemed to just sort of be there, without truly staking claim to their territory.

I'll Follow You is that something big. Opening with the slow-burning fuse of "Marine Life," the album takes off with second track "No Dreams," a barn-burner that brings the duet-vocals of Pat Sullivan and Rachel Cox to the forefront while letting the guitars take "Marine Life"'s building tension and watch it explode across the canvas. Immediately after are two more tracks, "Rue the Blues," a Southern-rock soaked rambler that has already started vying for my 'best song of the year' honors, and "Angela," a beautiful song that features Rachel Cox taking the sole vocal lead and doing some amazing things freed from the normal duet structure of the band. She repeats this feat on "All the Way Down" a couple of tracks later. The aforementioned "Marine Life" features Pat Sullivan on his own vocally, and while at least half the record is devoted to Oakley Hall's trademark boy/girl vocal pairings, the decision to let some of the songs be showcases for their vocals as invidivuals is a smart one that pays dividends as the album progresses and keeps moments from running together.

The record does bog down toward the middle section with two slow songs bookending the middling "Best of Luck," which, after starting with a great finger-picked structure, features a chord shift heading into the chorus that grates and just doesn't sound right. But the album finds its feet again with "Alive Among Thieves" which recalls some of the better moments of Gypsum Strings in its guitar sound and intensity. "Rogue Revelator" is one of the album's more reaching moments where, percussion-less, and soaked in reverberated guitar and vocal lines, sounding almost like a maudlin carnival theme, the album begins to wind down.

This is a band that is slowly working the kinks out of its sound, and album after album, has gotten better and better. Their unique blend of college-rock guitars and Southern rock song structure, paired with art/noise sensibilities, has created one of the most unique sounding bands in indie-rock today.

Rating: E(xceptional)

(Rating scale: A, E, I, O, U and sometimes Y)

Decide for Yourself:

Oakley Hall - No Dreams

Oakley Hall - Rue the Blues (removed by request)

Oakley Hall - Angela (removed by request)


Download music by Thurston Moore and Oakley Hall from EMusic.

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