Thurston Moore’s 2020 release, By the Fire, is a mature album that emphasizes what Moore does best and still pushes boundaries.
Thurston Moore is one of a fast-disappearing group of New York musicians who distilled their experience of the urban environment, of the media trends, elements of popular culture, managing the trick of casting a spell over both the arts for arts sake and the rock and roll heart crowds. For this is the duality of art that Moore’s career examines–the notion of high art colliding and coalescing with garage rock and other harsh elements. Just as the Velvet Underground was a tightrope between John Cale’s wanting to the compositional freedom of modern classical music and Lou Reed’s love of high-octane, guitar-fueled garage rock. It was a war that Reed fought with himself after Cale left the band and carried into his subsequent solo career.
Moore’s 2020 release, By the Fire, is a mature album, and as such it doesn’t need to walk that line as urgently as during Moore and Sonic Youth’s earlier years. Instead, we get a sound that is thoroughly Moore’s, a heady stew of garage rock, punk, avant noise, no wave, post-punk, alt-rock, and electronics blended with all of the skill that he and his band (Deb Googe (b), James Sedwards (g), Steve Shelley (d), and Jon ‘Wobbly’ Leidecker (electronics), which is considerable.
Like Reed, Thurston Moore enjoys the pure sound of electric guitars playing blanketed walls of chords or settling into a defining melodic countermelody, or the sure rush of an electric guitar making noise, squalling with feedback and the various sounds that can be wrenched out of the strings. You get a healthy dose of that over the last half of “Breath.” a song that winds up from a ringing Peter Buck-ish ballad strum to a steadily humming motorik that is restless, searching unabated until it finally tumbles into a dirt devil of unrestrained noise.
Few post-punk pioneers are still around or producing music and so it often seems like music that never reached full maturity, and yet there are so many key recordings that fit its framework. Moore and his cohorts have been playing music at the edges of rock and modern experimental music for so long that they are able to relax into the tracks of By the Fire, delivering music that is at once professionally rendered and yet still pushing at the boundaries.