I love this album, a beautiful, sad, acoustic offering from the Sonic Youth leader. It reminds me of Sea Change, not surprising given Beck produced it. It also brings to mind Nick Drake’s work, thanks to the simple folk-pop arrangements: acoustic guitar and strings, with an occasional additional instrument or low-key percussion providing color.
“Benediction” is a beautiful open, with a simply strummed guitar and hushed brush-work on a snare, the perfect accompaniment to the voice and lyrics. The mood continues with “Illumine,” which demonstrates another strength of this album: a careful “less is more” approach to instrumentation: the music swells and I hear what I believe is a harp, but which could also be a hammered dulcimer, in the background. It’s a subtle thing but adds to the flavor of the song in a restrained way.
Moore chooses interesting chords (I’m no expert but I think I’m hearing 7ths and minor 7ths, ambivalent chords that lend themselves well to the material). He often plays them farther up the neck of the guitar, this higher pitched sound adding a degree of urgency to the music. “In Silver Rain with a Paper Key” and “Mina Loy” both capture this feeling well.
The combination of rapidly strummed acoustic and strings can occasionally produce a surprisingly driving song, such as “Circulation.” It’s one of the few songs featuring obvious percussion, with toms getting whacked behind a jarring guitar bit. But it’s mostly quieter material, like “Blood Never Lies” featuring a nice mandolin bit and a repetitive descending chorus, or “Orchard Sleep” with its vaguely threatening air, and cryptic scary lyrics.