Trees Outside the Academy, the latest solo effort from Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, starts with "Frozen GTR" and strings that screech in pain. Just when your ears are thinking, "this hurts," he brings in a rough and dirty cowboy riff, beautiful strings, and gentle female backing vocals. This is, perhaps, what Thurston has always done best - walk the line between hurting your ears and taking your ears to this fantastic, balanced world where everything sounds really fucking good.
"The Shape Is In A Trance" begins like a lost Nick Drake number but then quickly alters when Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelly and violinist Sumara Lubelski join in. "Honest James" begins with two minutes of lush, acoustic guitar and then kicks in to a duet with Christina Carter from Charalambides.
What might surprise people about this album is the minimalism. Even without an electric guitar, drills, or unusual tunings, Thurston can still make a textured song. Even following the verse-chorus-verse standard, Thurston doesn't even come close to writing a 'standard' song. "American Coffin" is an instrumental with an out of tune piano as its only instrument. "Wonderful Witches" and "Off Work" feature scratchy guitar work by Dinosaur Jr's J Mascis. "Free Noise Among Friends" is either 37 seconds of analog heaven or hell; take your pick. The title song is a psychotic six minute jam followed by a hidden track, "Thurston at 13" (which is, literally, Thurston at 13).
The hidden track ends with 13 year-old Thurston asking, "Why the fuck am I doing this?" After listening to Trees Outside the Academy its obvious to me why Thurston is doing this, and why I have been interested in what he is doing since I was 13. He knows how to write and play music. He knows how to make some NOISE.