The name Chelsea Light Moving, which here applies to the four-piece band put together by Thurston Moore in his latest post-Sonic Youth adventure as well as their eponymous debut album, evokes a certain part of New York City in a poetic way. After a bit of research however, I was surprised to discover that it was taken from the name of an actual removals company from the 1970s, which believe it or not was managed by two of the godfathers of modern classical composition, Steve Reich and Philip Glass!
Despite that heritage, Chelsea Light Moving is furthest from the difficult, modern classical elements that raised their head during Sonic Youth's long career. It does hark back to a lot of their output, especially in some of the song writing, but it is characterised as something new by refreshingly heavy punk and metal influences. Given the generally positive reactions to his last solo record, the folk influenced Demolished Thoughts, you could be forgiven for thinking that Thurston had exhausted what he was going to do with the electric guitar. Happily, Chelsea Light Moving proves that he isn't afraid to amp it up and make some glorious noise.
The sound of this album is a total contrast to Demolished Thoughts although the personnel are very similar. Samara Lubelski, once of Jackie-O-Motherfucker, who played violin with Demolished Thoughts and Trees Outside The Academy, plays bass here, and Keith Wood from Hush Arbors adds additional guitar. The powerhouse behind the drum kit is John Moloney (Sunburned Hand of the Man/ Six Organs of Admittance).
'Heavenmetal' opens the album and is relatively subdued, a gentle shorter song. It doesn't have any of the noise overload or poetic indulgence of the rest of the album. It has a simple refrain - "be a warrior and love life." Given that Thurston is in his mid-fifties and has recently seen his band and marriage come to an end, this comes across as something defiant and positive.
'Sleeping Where I Fall' is the first of the lengthy punk rock songs, with a snaky Dead Kennedys-style guitar lick, and when the refrain comes around the second time things get heavy and it just keeps building. You imagine it is going to end with a couple of minutes of solid guitar noise, but it ducks back into the chorus again when you are least expecting it.
'Alighted' picks up where that left off, with its metal riffing for three noisy minutes before the vocals appear and weave a tune out of the barrage. 'Empires of Time' is heavy psychedelia ("we are the third eye of rock n roll") and another enjoyable battle between some crunching noisy riffs and more delicate guitar parts.
The overly heavy feel of the first few tracks gives way to some more varied influences as the album develops. 'Lip' and 'Communist Eyes' are old school punk thrash straight from the late 70s or early 80s, whilst 'Mohawk' sets a long Thurston spoken word piece to music, with Samara Lubelski's violin to the fore.
Poetry has become more prevalent in Thurston's solo sets of late, and it is not a surprise to see it feature here. Although 'Mohawk' is the only spoken piece, literary influences loom large, particularly on the catchy 'Burroughs' which gets over familiar with the Naked Lunch author, referring to him as "Billy" throughout.
'Frank O'Hara Hit' names checks the New York poet in a story song set in the 1960s that refers to cultural icons like "Bobby Dylan" and "Jagger". This was the first song I heard from CLM and it is also probably the most Sonic Youth-like piece here, although once again the shifts between the song structure and heavy blasts of noise help to distinguish it from Thurston’s old band.
It is always going to be difficult for the members of Sonic Youth to step out from that band's shadow. Perhaps it is significant that after three solo records under his own name, Thurston is treating Chelsea Light Moving as a coherent band in its own right. A four-piece rock band with his guitar playing and his distinctive voice will obviously sound like Sonic Youth, but this album is at times heavier and less complicated than them, and best of all it has a fire and an energy of its own that makes it well worth hearing.