Reinvention seems compulsory for artists entering the twilight of their career. And while it would be premature to suggest the sun is setting on Thurston Moore’s work as a musician, his recent output has been a conspicuous departure from Sonic Youth’s trashy lo-fi rock. To produce Demolished Thoughts, Moore turned to the delectably eccentric Beck, who tries to elevate the album above standard pseudo-folk fare by peppering Moore’s finely crafted songs with handsome orchestral arrangements courtesy of some very accomplished musicians.
Demolished Thoughts isn’t quite an acoustic-folk record, but it’s difficult not to look to the likes of Damien Rice’s O and Beck’s own unplugged odyssey, Sea Change, as obvious points of comparison. Moore seems happier to hide behind his newfound bandmates than either of those artists did, as there are numerous stretches on the album where he shies away from the microphone to make way for some sweeping symphonic interlude. As such, the album rarely seems as compelling as either of those aforementioned works, and Moore struggles to form as captivating an identity as Rice or Beck. Magnificent as the album’s orchestral breaks are, with the one on “Blood Never Lies” standing out as a particular highlight, they work against the album’s stripped-down aesthetic and rob us of the soul-bearing candor that the likes of “Benediction” and “Illuminine” point toward.
Though Demolished Thoughts‘s title hints at all the angst and punk sensibilities of Moore’s work with Sonic Youth, the album’s very much birthed from a different mindset. Now in his 50s, Moore displays a tendency to muse and ponder in his lyrics rather than tackle issues head-on. The concept of love is touched on throughout, assuming different forms and applied to various scenarios, while Moore fleetingly contemplates God and religion on “Benediction” and “In Silver Rain with a Paper Key.” His stances on those issues are frustratingly hazy, though, and it’s difficult to find a particular sentiment that underpins each piece.
Moore sounds like he’s struggling to shake off his desire to write an anarchic Sonic Youth number on “Orchard Street,” and especially in the frenzied opening bars of “Circulation.” In these instances, the strings and harps create a wall of jarring noise atop the acoustic guitars. This is Demolished Thoughts at its least serene, but also at its most unique, and the album suffers due to the lack of originality elsewhere. After a decade of pensive chamber-pop lullabies from a number of artists, it feels like there’s no new ground to break in this particular subgenre.