Seven solo albums in, Thurston Moore is still consistently producing the kinds of records you can sit with for hours, contemplate and re-contemplate, trying to tease something new out of what you missed on your last listen. It’s something he’s been doing successfully for four decades, and By The Fire continues the streak .
By The Fire’s first track, “Hashish,” came out as a single with an accompanying video in June. It’s great as a standalone piece, but it’s also an excellent album opener, too, with an anticipatory build of the guitars before the drums kick in. Paired with the guitars, those drums scream Sonic Youth-era sound. Yes, of course, you say. It’s Thurston Moore with Steve Shelley on drums.
More accurately, By The Fire’s drumming duties are shared by Steve Shelley and Jem Doulton, with Deb Googe of My Bloody Valentine on bass, James Sedwards providing additional guitar, and Jon Leidecker (Negativland’s Wobbly) providing electronic elements.
Two thirds of By The Fire’s nine tracks have lyrics penned by Radieux Radio, poet and frequent Moore collaborator. Those lyrics are lush and lean toward the psychedelic, as those on “Hashish” do: “Hashish scarab come tonight/Will you bring your elusive light/Your love is all that I am needing now/Your drug is all that I am feeling now.” Beyond “Hashish,” Radiuex Radio’s lyrics are, for the most part, poems nestled into more expansive instrumental works.
And those expansive works are lovely. The surprisingly sweet indie-pop “Siren,” for example, builds and swallows for the first seventy five percent of the song, then, recedes into cymbal and light rumble, only to resume its sweetness for a dozen uttered lines that are left to drift away.
With By The Fire running the gamut from sweetness to occasional rock-dude guitar nods (hello “Cantaloupe”), there’s a lot to take in here. But it all works, and one track follows the next well. The album closes with its only fully-instrumental track, “Venus.” It feels like the perfect place to finish: it’s echoey, explorative, potentially an uneasy listen. It’s the score to a movie you can’t quite focus your eyes enough to see.