Thurston Moore Is a Pale Imitation of His Former Self on 'By the Fire'

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished Sep 28, 2020

Throughout his 38 years as a recording musician, Thurston Moore has lived numerous lives: no-wave pioneer, experimental drone musician, MTV Buzz Bin staple, label boss and indie rock icon. So, to see the 62-year-old crafting something as forced and tedious as By the Fire isn't just disappointing, it's practically insulting.

Considering that Moore's greatest critical and commercial success came from his days as a member of Sonic Youth, it was no surprise when Moore tried to recreate his alma mater in 2014, crafting two good-to-great LPs with his Thurston Moore Band that featured an art rock guitarist (Nøught's James Sedwards) and a noise-friendly bassist (My Bloody Valentine's Debbie Googe) à la Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon, along with actual Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley.

On By the Fire opener "Hashish," Moore and his trio wholesale borrow the intro, main riff and melody from Sonic Youth's 1998 single "Sunday," while the most poppy and compact track on the LP, "Cantaloupe", freely cops the guitar rhythm of SY's 1992 classic "Sugar Kane." But once Moore becomes tired of repurposing old riffs, noise breakdowns, and tunings, he reverts to simply repeating intros and harmonies across the album's nine tracks and 80 minutes, melding together elements from the sluggish "Calligraphy" and the guileless "Dreamers Work."

As Moore made some of his best solo work a decade back by bringing in odd bedfellows like harpist Mary Lattimore and violinist Samara Lubelski, he simply seems uninterested in challenging himself sonically this time around, aside from adding in famed experimental electronic musician Jon "Wobbly" Leidecker's ambient noise (which isn't utilized enough beyond the mostly excellent 17-minute standout/sore thumb "Locomotive")

But what may make Moore' seventh solo LP most appealing to long-time fans comes from the level of comfort and familiarity present here, as much of the material sounds like Sonic Youth, even if the quality isn't there. Witnessing Gordon and Ranaldo successfully reinvent their sounds over the past year just makes the failures of By the Fire that much more painful to accept. But as Thurston Moore himself once said, kill yr idols.
(The Daydream Library Series)

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