If the 12-year gap between Thurston Moore's first solo album and this new one suggests a life of fruitful harmony aboard the Sonic Youth mothership, then so too does the aural weft of Trees Outside the Academy. It's surely testimony to Moore's relaxed sense of his artistic self that he should have elected to make what is primarily an album of acoustic ballads, albeit serrated just under the surface by his trademark gonzoid dissonance. And what beautiful songs these are, none more so than "Honest James," where Charalambides'Christina Carter duets with the author on a supplicatory lament to love and loss, with Moore's lyrics pitched at a level of emotional candour from which his work with Sonic Youth has generally shied.
While many solo efforts clearly suffer from self-indulgent motivation, the predominant sense here is of a writer investigating alternative contexts: the violin-flecked rustic Kraut grooves of "The Shape Is in a Trance" and "Off Work," for instance, are obviously of the same hand that created "Pink Steam" from the most recent SY album, but you can't imagine Moore's band going about them in such pleasingly understated fashion, simply because that's not their modus operandi. Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis pops up to gnarl tuffly on "Wonderful Witches" and SY drummer Steve Shelley offers unobtrusive drumming throughout, but it's Thurston's gig and he's clearly tickled to have finally kept a string of these pearly tunes to himself.