Psychic Hearts (DGC)
Thurston Moore

>By Bob Bahr

Because Thurston Moore has been soaking in Sonic Youth for a dozen years, it's not surprising that a solo effort tastes like that seminal underground rock band. Psychic Hearts has the elemental melodies, the sculpted feedback and the gleeful dissonance of Sonic Youth records. Moore approaches his vocals in Youthful ways too: belted into cupped hands, agonized into the microphone, whispered. Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley is along for the ride too, giving Psychic Hearts the bare-boned-beats feel (Shelley seems to dislike the concept of drum fills) that Youth fans know well. Bassist Tim Foljahn seems to fully grasp Moore's vision.

But the essence of Moore's solo diversion is his guitar playing, which is a celebration of the guitar chord. Moore's arty, sensitive angle is in sharp contrast to the macho posturing of virtuosic guitar gods who race down single-note runs like a tiger running through the jungle. Look to the last track for a flagrant indication of this. The first three minutes of the 19-minute "Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars" is one chord, insistently strummed with little rhythmic variation, a bold tribute to the sound and feel of three or more notes played carefully in unison.

It may sound boring, but it's not. Moore will lay a pretty, major chord into the air, then subvert it with a shot of dissonant feedback or another heart-lurching chord. That may sound prohibitively weird, but it's not. Shaking the sweetness of a melody with dissonant squalls of sound creates a fascinating tension, just as the delivery of the lyrics Moore sings promise sordid tales but deliver child-like contemplations of big, scary things and those kids at school who are "stupid fools." It is all strangely accessible and vulnerable. He sets himself up as the adult who understands adolescent alienation, as opposed to an arrested artist who still experiences crippling emotional detachment.

The record seems bereft of pretensions.

Psychic Hearts is a personal communication from Moore to the listener. This sets his music apart from that of his full-time band; Sonic Youth's music seems to be getting progressively poppier and more powerful. Additionally, even though these songs mirror the overall texture of Sonic Youth songs, they don't twist several times into new, challenging sections. The lack of interplay with bassist Kim Gordon and guitarist Lee Ranaldo means more uniformity. The vision is purer and more consistent -- but lacking when compared to the band's body of work. It's just not as satisfying.

With the perverse determination of a child who touches a hot burner, Moore can't resist finishing guitar rock clichés with an off-kilter chord or stairstepping up a crescendo with the nightmarish crunch of Cubist-like, unconventional harmonies. Moore is at peace with his avant grade gift. He is deliberate and tasteful in his indulgences. Flailing away is just one color on his palette; repetition is the only irreplaceable element of the music.

That repetition and Moore's unremarkable lyrics make Psychic Hearts a valuable reference for guitarists. Casual listeners will have to work harder, and pop radio will easily ignore it.