“The Best Day”

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First Posted: 10/20/2014

To a segment of the music world, the break-up of Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, and the subsequent dissolution of Sonic Youth, the band they led together, was a tragedy.

In a world that doesn’t have many examples of great marriages between famous people, the Alt-Rock power couple, combined true love and creative collaboration. They created a heady brew that fans could point to as a model for settling down without losing your spark. When they went bust, online gossip wanted a villain, and, when Moore’s extramarital dalliance was revealed, well, they found him.

Thurston Moore’s new solo album, “The Best Day,” could hardly be released under worse circumstances. If Matador Records attached a press release announcing that Moore hates babies, kittens and doesn’t believe in global warming they couldn’t create a more hostile audience than the one they already have. It’s a shame, because to these ears, Moore’s album is a concise demonstration of what made Sonic Youth great. People focus on things like feedback and volume and their roots with pioneering hardcore band Black Flag’s SST Records and assume that Sonic Youth was about aggression, punk posturing and noise.

What they fail to see is that Sonic Youth was largely a melodic band. Sure, the tools they used included feedback, unconventional tunings and occasionally dissonance, but, the music is pretty. That’s true of “The Best Day” from the first notes of album opener “Speak To The Wild.” This is loud, electric music in the classic two guitars, bass and drums lineup. It’s beautiful music and the steady beat and spiraling guitars have a placid, calming effect. Moore’s new group recalls melodic highlights from Sonic Youth’s past, like “The Diamond Sea” or “Sunday,” and the band Television, who perfected this style of music on 1977’s “Marquee Moon.” The 11-minute, epic “Forevermore” builds from a grinding one- note bass pattern into long-form guitar swells I feared died with Sonic Youth. It’s familiar. You could argue Moore isn’t pushing himself, but it’s an inimitable sound he does better than anyone in the world.

Thurston Moore is a performer defined by his limitations. The range of things he does well is relatively narrow—for a band constantly called experimental, Sonic Youth settled on a specific sound early in their career (1987’s “Sister” is the watershed), and largely stuck with that sound until the end. Moore’s last solo record, “Demolished Thoughts” from 2011, was something of a departure, and it suffered for it. An acoustic, pastoral album with string arrangements, it was likeable song by song but monotonous and forgettable as a whole. The settings remind the listener that Moore is a limited singer at best. But in front of washes of electric guitar and the reliably inventive drumming of his Sonic Youth bandmate Steve Shelley, Moore’s voice is comfortably in its rightful place. On “The Best Day,” whenever you worry that he’s wearing out his welcome with the two or three note vocal parts, another beautiful passage of interlocking guitars start up. At 56 years old, Moore has no right to be this good but he sounds confident, assured and capable of everything we’ve ever liked about him.

Now if only the whole world didn’t think he was a jerk.