Mostly known as the frontman for the band Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore has been constantly involved in music production since the formation of the band in 1981 at the least. Beyond Sonic Youth, he has also gone on to form his own record label, Ecstatic Peace!, he has worked soundtrack production for several films, and now even occasionally works as a professor at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory. So to say the least, Moore is an experienced rocker.
You can imagine my disappointment, then, listening to “By the Fire” and hearing a tired and feeble attempt at recapturing the energy of Moore’s punk roots.
The album emphasizes its instrumentals more than it does the lyrical content. While I can appreciate the atmosphere Moore creates with his orchestration as a whole, the instrumentals themselves lack any personality. Some songs stretch out up to nearly 17 minutes long, however the issue lies with the repetition of the same chord progressions and drum beats for almost the entirety of these songs. Quickly songs go from unique to sounding like sample music you would find on an electronic keyboard in your fourth grade music class.
The lyrics are inconsequential, typically just discussing drug-like experiences or the memory of a woman. Though as I mentioned before, the focal point of the album is not intended to be the lyrical content. Rather, the sound created by the vocals is what’s important.
Moore’s voice is intended to balance with the instrumentation and supplement the atmospheric environment. You can hear in Moore’s singing that he has aged, leaving him with what sounds like the singing voice of pretty much every male musician in his sixties. I had to argue with myself internally, but I would say this does serve to the album’s benefit, as it does add to the emotion of all of the other aspects of the LP.
Thurston Moore’s “By the Fire” is noise—Purposeful noise that succeeds at creating a sort of haunting, occasionally angry atmosphere, but fails to create real enjoyable music. Redundant instrumentals on an instrumental-based album makes less of an album for the sake of listening and more of a soundtrack to a nonexistent movie. It’s clear Moore has talent, but it certainly doesn’t shine on “By the Fire.”