The legendary DJ and tastemaker John Peel once remarked, “There is only one man I am jealous of that is not a footballer, and that is James Sedwards.” On the second release in which Moore assembled what we can call, The Thurston Moore Band, Sedwards shows us why with ease. Rock and Roll Consciousness is guided by Sedwards’ meandering guitar. He wanders the neck, creating free form grooves in an unpredictable, avant-garde manner, until he arrives at the sweet spots of his lead runs on a hook that is every bit as catchy as a pop song. His is playing like no other. A new Tom Verlaine. It is prog, it is jazz, and it is fusion. It follows the heartbeat of every song. But as often in life, the mind gets in the way of the heart, and his improvisations reach the soul as any master raconteur could with a good story. Even if it feels like you want him to get to the point, you realize the best stories are in the telling.
It’s impossible for there not to be some echoes of late Sonic Youth with Steve Shelley on drums. Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine makes the difference. As opposed to the often frantic, pounding style of Kim Gordon, Googe is a more syncopated, rhythm section accessory to Shelley than Gordon ever was. In contrast with how Gordon’s bass was usually mixed higher than normal, the vibe of Sonic Youth recedes a bit with Googe. She is happy to compliment what is being built around her. This is a fine collection of musicians, and they all have moments to shine on Rock and Roll Consciousness. It is a testament to Moore’s generosity as an artist and ability to provide a space for others to thrive with this collection of songs.
“Exalted” is a bit of “Goo” dripping onto “Washing Machine.” (Excuse the wordplay, but the analogy is accurate.) Traditional tunings that characterized late SY and clean guitars provide the layers underneath which Moore and Sedwards’ guitars can build on. Comparisons to Pink Floyd make purists cringe, but are not unfair here. It’s a guitar driven album with five long songs and explorations. Moore has always explored without a map. It may be as rehearsed as anything. But it sounds alive. Improvised. Authentic.
“Cusp” is a little bit Television, a little bit of “Sister” era SY, while the leads carry on in a Dinosaur Jr fuzz. As the layers of guitars build, the fuzz wins the day. “Turn Ons”, with its gentle intro, rings like a Nigel Godrich production, circa OK Computer. It is here Moore exploits Shelley’s familiarity and ability to keep up with his unorthodox time changes.
“Smoke of Dreams” sounds like it’s off “Daydream Nation.” But “DN” played too slow on an old turntable. So much of the feel of Moore’s last two records might be like what he was hearing back in the 80s, but needed Sedwards to help realize. This track is Sedwards showpiece. The most evenly structured, innovative guitar work on an album full of playing that sounds fresh, vital, and new. The closer, “Aphrodite” is discordant and agitated at first. But as the album’s finale, it feels like it has a duty to resolve some of the musical ideas raised throughout.
What is “Rock and Roll Consciousness?” For Moore? For the band? I think he is asking us to listen, to develop our own “consciousness” around it. As music so seldom does, it leaves itself up for interpretation, even lyrically obtuse. As David Lynch once said of his films, “ I can’t tell you what they mean. It’s up to you to tell me.” I think Moore’s career proves his Rock and Roll Consciousness is coming from a similar place. He likes to get out there, sometimes WAY out there, and he loves to take us with him. But he’s considerate enough to ask us to interpret, as only we can, with our own tastes and experiences. For Moore, the most important thing has always been to challenge convention. Be it how a guitar is tuned, played or sounds. Or how the band comes together. We are grateful to any artist who energizes us to think for ourselves. And Thurston Moore still does.