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Sensitive / Lethal

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Album Review

Thurston Moore's Sensitive/Lethal is a mad trilogy of sculpted guitar noise, a droning experiment in distortion and dissonance. It could be called refreshing that Moore is still experimenting here with his beloved axes so far into this career and at the age of 49, but the music in no way refreshes the ears or the soul of anyone within earshot. That's not meant as a criticism, because the album's 52 minutes see guitars laid to waste as some kind of cleansing musical catharsis; it's not meant to be fun. Opener "Sensitive" is 22 minutes of distorted wailing guitars performing blood-splattering bestial autopsies over a base of uneasy chiming acoustic guitars. Midway in things start to collapse, as the sounds become more atonal but beautiful in their violent, apocalyptic sorrow. "Lonesome" isn't the pensive after-dinner mint its title suggests. Instead it's a wonky four-minute bridge of guitars acting like nails down chalkboards, the scraping and colliding of passenger ferries just before they sink in some disturbing, industrial accident. "Lethal" is an appropriately named 26-minute marathon of guitar stabs, head-splitting high-pitched whines, chirping electric frequencies, and twirling mad sine waves that finally ends in a prolonged series of droning tones that sound like the death of the instrument. It's Jimi Hendrix had he been a psychotic alien on steroids, or it's a recital in hell. You can always sense the artist sculpting the sounds behind the noise, especially given Moore's no wave background and work with Glenn Branca. The experiment here seems as much about understanding audience tolerance as it does about sonic manipulation. At high volumes "Lethal" can be quite punishing, and as with many noise rock recordings, the lack of a live audience takes something from the equation. It's too easy to turn down the volume or stop playback altogether with an album, though at a get-together one could see how fast a room would clear. Sensitive/Lethal is an interesting, sometimes beautiful, and often difficult and disturbing look into Thurston Moore's painful love affair with the guitar.


Born: 25 July 1958 in Coral Gables, FL

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Although a key member of the critically acclaimed art/punk rock band Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore has also been involved in numerous side projects, including the Dim Stars with Richard Hell and Even Worse. His first solo album, Psychic Hearts (recorded during and immediately after his wife and Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon's pregnancy in 1994), with ex-Half Japanese guitarist Tim Foljahn and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, had an appropriately offhand feel but was far from sloppy. Along with carrying...
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