Music Reviews
Chelsea Light Moving

Chelsea Light Moving Chelsea Light Moving

(Matador) Rating - 3/10

30 years. That’s a long-time in anyone’s book, but in rock music it’s nigh-on an eternity, hence the feeling that there was something almost eternal about Sonic Youth (as the title of their last album proper, to date, reflected). However, following the quiet break-up of the band’s core-relationship, their future remains pretty shaky, and in turn it could be said that never before has a Thurston Moore solo-record had come lumbered with such a weight of anticipation. And, unfortunately, rather than use the opportunity to draw more attention to the quiet, almost acoustic path his recent work had been taking, or even go back to the niche experimentation of his earlier side projects, Moore has decided to deliver perhaps his most Sonic Youth-sounding album to date.

Frequently during Chelsea Light Moving’s ten tracks are the totems of the rock and counter-cultures invoked, so far, so far for the course, but what’s concerning here is that absolutely nothing is done with them. Whereas in the past there was a sense that Sonic Youth were transforming their touch-stones, even if in a minor way – such as in exposing a pop audience to the ‘joys’ of John Cage and Yoko Ono (or, looking at it the other way, taking the tropes of alternative/college rock and stretching them as far as they’d go) – there are no such surprises here, just more off-kilter guitar riffs that balance precipitously on the higher end of the fret-board and lyrics that once again trot out of the usual suspects (namely The Beat writers, and NY and LA based musicians of the late 70s and early 80s), as if name-dropping is enough to make up for a lack of content. It’s precisely what the NYC City Ghosts and Flowers-era backlash was accusing Moore and his (in theory former) band-mates of, but with good cause this time. Mohawk (which draws on an anecdote about Darby Crash, as if to remind you that they were there, man) might as well be a reworking of that record’s title track, but Lee Ranaldo was always better at delivering a chilly narration of detached urban noir, serving as a reminder that the magic formula that kept Sonic Youth fresh over so many years was the sense of democracy between the band members and the tension between their very different voices; at best, Chelsea Light Moving could only ever be a quarter-to-a-third of that.

(Although, on the plus side, the band are named after a removals company that Philip Glass & Steve Reich ran, so there’s at least a bit of delightful musical trivia to be gleaned from the venture).

While claims may be made that Chelsea Light Moving are not just Moore, but a band as a whole - and it could be said that the youthful (relatively speaking) energy that Moore has surrounded himself with may well have inspired/facilitated the spirited run through the closing cover of The Germs’ Communist Eyes - in truth, the difference between their sound and Sonic Youth’s is as negligible as Samara Lubelski’s violin contributions to this record. What’s more it’s an extremely lumbering one at that – take the zombie shuffle of Frank O'Hara Hit. There are occasional sparks of life, such as the thick guitar tones of Empires of Time, or the frenzied ‘Don’t shoot’ coda to Groovey & Linda, or the berserk blast of Burroughs’ guitar solo, but, by attempting to give us what we want, and provide reassurance that the Sonic Youth legacy is in safe hands, Moore has somehow managed to make it look weaker and less appealing than it ever was.