One of the highlights of the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival came during Yoko Ono’s set. In between a mix of Plastic Ono Band-era songs and newer songs that sounded like Plastic Ono Band recreations, Ono invited Thurston Moore to accompany her on guitar for the song “Mulberries.” The performance was intense; Ono sang in her usual theatrical caterwaul and Moore unleashed a massive wall of guitar squalls. Within a set of rock songs of various stripes, it was a welcome change of pace, even beyond the Oh-my-god-this-is-happening-ness of the moment. I’m probably also required to mention that that was only the third performance of “Mulberries” ever, the first without a Lennon playing guitar (John and Sean had each accompanied her once before).
Sadly, this hour-long “EP” has very little of the excitement of that moment on stage, despite having many of the same musical elements. The songs here are mostly ponderous, nine-minute long epics with very little in the way of song form, melody, or musical interest. Often, all Moore, Kim Gordon, and Ono give us are free-floating walls of SYR-style feedback and piles of heavy breathing. There’s plenty of screaming for the sake of screaming, noise for the sake of noise, and abstraction for the sake of abstraction. In short, this feels like a return to Ono’s early ‘70s primal scream or whatever, in a way that doesn’t seem to express anything beyond “we’re famous noisemongers, listen to us noise!”
The most interesting moments here — and there are a few — surprisingly come when the trio is at their quietest. On “Running the Risk,” after a turgid two-minute introduction where Ono, Gordon, and Moore trade off random fragmentary phrases, Moore stumbles onto a spacious chord progression that could be an outtake from the last Sonic Youth album while Gordon and Ono sing together, occasionally harmonizing, occasionally speaking, and occasionally moaning. It’s fairly glorious. Moore’s gesture towards something recognizable as almost-rock provides just enough context for Gordon and Ono’s extreme vocalizations to be comprehensible. A similar texture occurs at the end of “Mirror Mirror,” emerging after almost five minutes of noodling. And “Early in the Morning” has a few flashes that feel like early Sonic Youth songs, particularly when Gordon coos over a fairly dissonant repeated chord. Were the entire EP made up of these moments, extended to 20 minutes each, I would be totally content. As it stands, this album could have benefitted from Moore’s advice from “Running the Risk”: “weed out drivel.”