VIDEO: Kevin Drew, "Back Out on the ... "
Thurston Moore, Eddie Vedder, and Kevin Drew don’t play in the kind of tightly controlled rock bands that privilege streamlined sonics over the expression of individual creative wills. Moore’s group, Sonic Youth, have spent the last two and a half decades demonstrating that a love of pop and a love of noise needn’t cancel each other out. Since their early days as Seattle’s brightest commercial light, Vedder’s Pearl Jam have morphed into a weird and wily grunge-folk act. And Broken Social Scene, the expansive Toronto-based indie-rock troupe Drew leads, make out of disarray not just a musical ideal but an organizational one, too.
Nonetheless, all three men have new solo albums out this month that suggest each has more on his mind than can be contained by his day job. A determined dabbler, the 49-year-old Moore has complemented his recent Sonic Youth work with a host of small-scale collaborations with the underground noise denizens who consider him an elder statesman. But Trees Outside the Academy (Ecstatic Peace) is his first real collection of solo songs since 1995’s Psychic Hearts, and it’s no mere outtake reel. Most of the dozen tunes are built around folksy acoustic guitar, and that might have been a product of location: Moore recorded Trees with producer John Agnello at Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis’s house in Amherst, not far from where Moore lives with his wife (and bandmate), Kim Gordon, and their daughter, Coco, in Northhampton. (Mascis didn’t just play landlord; he plays guitar on a few cuts as well. Other guests include Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth on drums, Samara Lubelski on violin, and Christina Carter of Charalambides on vocals.)
Trees’ mood is reflective, but not necessarily mellow: if pretty melodies pop up throughout, so do nasty guitar fuzz and creepy piano chords. And Moore seems more interested in playing with language than in telling stories. “Oh, pardon me, purple veil/Take care of the girl who loves you,” he sings in “Fri/End,” a rollicking folk-rock strummer. “She rides the hot, hot rail/Devotional dharma crackles above you, and all the snaggle tongues shall lick tonight.” Alrighty, then.
The whiff of dirty-hippie mysticism is no accident. In fact, Trees might be at its best when Moore gives into the freewheeling vibe that is the natural outgrowth of spending your adult life engaged in on-stage jam sessions. Check out “Off Work,” where he and Shelley turn a standard-issue Sonic Youth doom-garage riff into a laid-back bongo-laced campfire groove. “I’ve always felt a certain reverence for the Grateful Dead scene,” he reveals in the September issue of Spin.
To judge by the sound of Into the Wild (J), Vedder can relate. On this 11-track soundtrack to Sean Penn’s new big-screen adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s true-life bestseller, Vedder indulges his taste for raggedy roots music that’s longer on back-porch atmospherics than on fist-pumping choruses. Working with producer Adam Kasper, Vedder played nearly everything on the album. (Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney sings high harmony vocals in “Hard Sun,” one of the disc’s most fleshed-out numbers.) And that gives Into the Wild a cozy, intimate feel. It’s as if playing the biggest venues in the world for the past decade or so had fostered in Vedder the desire to strip down and do the hippy-dippy drum-circle thing.
Vedder told the Los Angeles Times that he identifies with the subject of Krakauer’s book and Penn’s film, Chris McCandless, who left his life behind in an attempt to find himself in nature. In many of these tunes’ lyrics, Vedder could be channeling McCandless. Sometimes he does it elegantly: “Long nights allow me to feel I’m falling,” he sings over twinkling electric guitar in “Long Nights.” “I am falling.” Other times, as in “Far Behind,” his wisdom sounds like something you’d find inside a fortune cookie: “Empty pockets will allow a greater sense of wealth.” Deep.
If Into the Wild communicates a rock-and-roll superstar’s hankering for some precious alone time, Spirit If . . . (Arts & Crafts) relates something a little different — namely, just how much Kevin Drew loves his friends. This is Drew’s show, but scan the liner notes and you’ll see that nearly every member of Broken Social Scene appears on the album, along with folks from other Canadian indie acts — Metric, Stars, and Do Make Say Think, whose Ohad Benchetrit and Charles Spearin produced the album with Drew. (A few Americans crop up too; they include ex-Pavement guitarist Spiral Stairs and Mascis, showing the young people how it’s done.) You don’t even need to go to the liner notes — just take a look at the surtitle on the album cover: “Broken Social Scene Presents . . .”
Drew says he didn’t necessarily set out to make a solo album. “I was just recording stuff over the last couple of years because I wanted to realign myself with the idea of making a record. I wanted to refresh the idea.” He adds that it had been a while since he’d been able to call all the shots in the studio, and the idea appealed to him. But when he finished laying down the basic tracks of the new songs, it was obvious who he’d turn to for help to flesh them out. “I have incredible friends who I’ve been lucky to be able to make a music career with.”