So, Ben Pratt thinks that a reviewer should spend a month listening to an album before forming any sort of opinion on it. Back when I used to write for magazines, I would rarely have more than a week to listen to an album, and because I was sent several at a time and writing for multiple publications at once, it meant that albums rarely got more than two plays before review. You learn fast to think on your feet, make snap judgements and trust your instincts. I’ve very, very rarely changed my mind about a record after hearing it multiple times, and certainly never gone from hated to loved. Some records, sure, take a while to sink in, and you know I did that recently with Manorexia, but if you’d have asked me what I’d thought of it on the very first play (when it felt like being punched in the face), I’d have known that the album was just too much to take in and told you to come back later. Yes, I change my mind on individual tracks on albums, and sometimes upgrade an album from “OK” to “good” or “good” to “great”. Yes, there’s the bias of comparison: an OK album played after a terrible one sounds a lot better than it should. Even so, I should be able to hear a record and know right away whether it’s good or bad and expect to hold the same view after a month.
So I’m going to put it to the test. I’ll review an album tonight, cold-and-blind if you will, writing down my thoughts as they happen on first listen – just like those live-to-air blog pieces that were fashionable a while back. Then I’ll come back to it a month later and review it again without reading what I wrote the last time and see if I’ve changed my mind. Since it’s been on my wishlist for a while, I’ll purchase a shiny copy of Thurston Moore’s Demolished Thoughts and communicate my first impressions … right about now.
As Benediction starts, and the soft vocals and acoustic guitars roll in like fluffy clouds across a summer meadow, I’m wondering if I’ve made a big mistake. Cheery thoughtful singer-songwriter soft rock is really not my thing at all. But there’s something about this. I think it’s the warmth of the double bass and the vibrancy of the strings. It’s sunny in a thrilling way, like the shocking splash of a cold wave unexpectedly hitting you on the beach. I’m 3 minutes 30 seconds in and I love it already.
There is a precedent for me liking this sort of music. I mean, I did enjoy The Echo Wall’s EP last year, and really loved Kristin Hersh’s Strings EP and Lisa Germano’s Happiness back in the 90s. Illuminine has similar qualities to all of them – a lightness of touch without being feeble. There’s even something very slightly Levitation-ish about it – a hippyish psychedelia that hints at something darker, and I don’t think that’s just my conscious knowledge of Thurston’s Sonic Youth history.
Circulation is Sonic Youth unplugged. I have a feeling this is going to be my favourite, or high on the list. Even though it’s still acoustic with minimal percussion, there’s a density of sound. Of course the guitars are processed, reminding me a little of My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. Oh! I love how this builds – the unexpected chord progressions, the drums that sound like they’re being played underwater. It sounds like a superior Smashing Pumpkins, perhaps Porcelina from Mellon Collie. That’s no insult; I still like that record.
Blood Never Lies is mostly instrumental and doesn’t leave much of an impression on first hearing. I’m wondering who did backing vocals, and wondering if I should have bought the retail version instead of the MP3 (Amazon don’t give out liner notes/artwork with their downloads).
Orchard Street is back to the sort of music I immediately enjoy. Again, it’s Sonic Youth-y – could have been on Dirty – and expertly arranged. You never quite know what it’s going to do next. I like the bass on it. I like how the stereo mix is used to really immerse you in the sound. It comes at you from all angles. Even though I’m still jaded enough to feel like I could happily go a lifetime without going to another gig, I would love to see this performed live. It has a wonderful vintage Pink Floyd-style build at the end, spiralling into glorious squalls of noise. Interstellar Overdrive played through a waterfall.
Still on a psychedelic bent, In Silver Rain starts off trippy but then settles into a perfectly hummable poppy tune that could have been written by The Kinks. It jumps around in the middle – not quite math rock, but keeping us on our toes – and effectively jolts anyone who’d started to feel drowsy after all those dreamy songs.
Mina Loy is darker with inter-weaving melodies between the vocals and strings in strange rhythms. I feel like I should love it but don’t. I’ll be intrigued to note how I feel about this one in a few weeks.
Space is mostly instrumental. I’m beginnning to get a little fatigued at this point by too many similar-sounding tracks. This one really doesn’t need to be there. Oh dear, when the vocals kick in and the somewhat facile lyrics become audible, I really wish it had just been axed altogether. This is not a good song. It’s boring.
My overall impression is that Demolished Thoughts is a “very good” album, as I’d class it: strong tracks individually (minus Space), but far too same-y to sit together on an album. If I dip into it and listen to a song here and there, I’ll wonder what the hell I was complaining about since each song taken on its own terms is very good indeed. But if I sit down and try to take the lot at once – as with Buke and Gass, PJ Harvey and the first Battles album, the sheer overwhelming repetition just gets to me and I feel like I’m drowning. Not like they’re Status Quo records where they’re just writing the same track over and over, but that they’re just – to use a favourite analogy – pulling rabbit after rabbit out of a hat. Once you’ve heard the first song, you’ve heard the album. It’s terribly frustrating.
I’m listening to the last song, January, as I write this, but I needn’t have bothered: it does the same thing as Blood Never Lies, Space, Illuminine and Benediction. I’ve switched off and I’m feeling fidgety. Bored.
Then again, as the song ends and the cue returns to the first song, I’m sorely tempted to click on it and play it through immediately again. I’ll complain and criticise, because that’s what I do, but I know already that there are songs on here that I’ll love – not just next month, but in years and years to come.