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Chelsea Light Moving - Chelsea Light Moving

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Artist: Chelsea Light Moving

Album: Chelsea Light Moving

Label: Matador

Review date: Mar. 7, 2013

Chelsea Light Moving - "Alighted"

Sonic Youth fans haven’t had much time to despair in the year and a half since the band went on “indefinite hiatus.” In that time, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley have all either released or appeared on prominent records. With Chelsea Light Moving, Moore breaks with the acoustic pleasantries of his recent solo work and ratchets up a punishing sound. Moore’s genius for mixing the catchy and the noisy is on full display as he channels metal and post-hardcore riffage, foregoing pop concision on all but two songs (not including a pretty straight cover of The Germs’ “Communist Eyes”). Frequent Moore collaborator Samara Lubelski trades her violin for electric bass, and the outfit is rounded out by Keith Wood (Hush Arbors) on guitar and John Moloney (Sunburned Hand of the Man), all Western Massachusetts denizens, where the band recorded with Justin Pizzoferrato.

Chelsea Light Moving incarnates what has now become punk’s legacy, a knowledgeable command of all of the strangest elements of pop’s history—and this album is like a tour through Moore’s version of a weird America (with the band made up of stalwarts of the scene). The only problem is that, like any road trip, it goes through stretches of boredom. From a distance, the album seems concise and poppy. But up close, the heavy grazing of each song bursts its seams.

The opener, “Heavenmetal,” is a false lead — the song’s sunniness and positive message of “Be a warrior and love life” doesn’t hint at the fuzzy doom to come — but it’s an apt description of what Moore is up to on Chelsea Light Moving. The clean, bright guitar and robust bass, each twining around the other, make up the album’s core. Moore’s perennially boyish vocals appear on every song, sometimes sweet, but also snotty. Yet most of the album features the band trudging through a punishing battery of compulsive repetition.

The peak of these displaced instrumentals comes in “Alighted,” which starts like a mosquito buzzing in your brain and passes through both hardcore and drone. The lyrical center, a sort of punk-snob party manifesto, is cushioned on either side by three minutes of frustrated picking.

Part of Chelsea Light Moving’s aesthetic evolves from Moore’s art punk historian status, and the three initial singles work that professorial thread. “Frank O’Hara Hit” is a conspiracy theory about a date that brings together O’Hara, Dylan, Jagger and Moore himself. “Groovy and Linda” uses a grisly murder of hippies to figure the end of an era. Its timely refrain, “Don’t shoot, we are your children,” moves from an eerie mellow chant to a ripping classic punk yell. “Burroughs” is an address to the writer-king of the junkies that sounds classically Sonic Youth, with the kind of amazing squealing guitars you expect from Moore. His avant-garde pretension is strongest on “Mohawk,” a poem recited over droning guitar and violin that overstays its welcome. Moore has long associated himself with various underground poetry scenes as a writer, publisher and editor, so it’s a shame that this song drags down the second half of the album.

Still, the major revelation here is what Moore does with a clean guitar sound. The jangly chords are beautiful and pristine. Moore and Wood mask dark progressions with a cloak of brightness. Tthe band touches upon many metal signifiers — the fuzzed-out dissonance and tremolo picking of the instrumental section of “Sleeping Where I Fall,” or the Sabbath redux riff in “Empires of Time” — but the songs are often more interesting when they lose the distortion and still remain heavy.

The counter to any pretension is Chelsea Light Moving’s boundless energy. They recently made good on a promise to “detonate” a random birthday party. The same impulse that derails the song structure into complex jigsaws of riffs reveals a tireless and committed band. It’s good to hear Moore sound inspired, and for those who need their periodic Sonic Youth dose, Chelsea Light Moving does not disappoint. Whatever is overly familiar only sounds bittersweet.

By Scott Branson

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