Southern Lord – 25th February 2022

For many, the days of the longest, hardest lockdowns are, it would seem, behind us. And yet the shadow of the pandemic continues to hang long as dark; it’s hard to move on and truly put it behind us when life continues to be anything but normal; signage and masks and booster reminders are the new normal, and we face a new normal carrying scars of a personal nature, each and every one of us. Successive lockdowns, periods of isolation, have all affected us in different ways, and we’ve all suffered some form of trauma or psychological damage in living through conditions we’re simply not equipped for.

For many creative types, working through the experience has manifested in new artistic output. There’s something about channelling that anxiety into something, even if not direct or specific in addressing the issue, that helps to somehow minimise, contain, or otherwise manage it. Thurston Moore’s latest project, like so many was born out of a lockdown environment, and it’s an exploratory work, in so many ways. A series of instrumental guitar pieces recorded during the summer of 2020, it’s a document of, as the liner notes outline, a period where, ‘as the world confronted the pandemic shutdown and as the people of good conscious stood up against the oppression of racist police oppression and murder.’ It goes on to ask, ‘How much screen time does a parent allow a child? How much screen time does a child need to realise a world which has the means to coexist as a community in shared exchange?’

This feels like numerous issues, simultaneous but separate, have collided to inspire this album, and raises as many questions as answers. Moore is clearly placing his flag alongside Black Lives Matter, and it struck me – and surely many others – that the protests should have taken place when the world, pretty much, was in lockdown. How could this be? This was a moment in time when protest felt impossible. In fact, anything felt impossible. But the murder of George Floyd was a trigger and it marked a tipping point of something far, far bigger for so many. This was about centuries of oppression and division. The scenes aired over the news channels, globally, were electrifying. But how does this relate to monitoring the screen time parents should grant their children? Surely it’s less about the amount of time, but parental control, and the extent to which parents grant their children exposure to current affairs? That said, it’s something I’ve wrestled with myself. As a child, I had no interest in anything on the news; my own daughter, aged 10, is genuinely interested and has her views on our prime minister, our government, and the pandemic, and more. While I feel a duty to protect her from scenes of violence and endless report of rape, murder, abduction, and brutal crimes against women and children, I also feel that a certain degree of exposure to ‘the real world’ is beneficial, just as I’ve come to see that many computer games encourage problem-solving and eye-hand co-ordination. Screen time isn’t all bad if you can get over the generational differences. But.. but… no doubt, it’s a conundrum.

Screen Time offers no answers. As is often the case with instrumental works, there is little to be gleaned from them in and of themselves, and the titles offer little by way of interpretive guidance. The only thing that really struck me about the titles, in fact, is that several share their with cure songs: ‘The Walk’; ‘The Dream’. ‘The Upstairs’ feels like an allusion to ‘The Upstairs Room’ (the title of the 12” EP version of ‘The Walk’; but then again, all of the compositions are ‘the’ something: ‘The View’, ‘The Neighbour’, and these reflect the shrunken worlds we inhabited during this time: four walls, the view from the window, and the TV as the window to the world. There was nothing else but to look, and to ponder. Screen Time is a work of ponderance. It doesn’t have to be coherent, because coherent thought isn’t the state of the world right now. Show me someone who has a firm handle on everything that’s going on and I’ll show you a bullshitter. No-one knows anything, and we’re all just fumbling, stumbling through.

Many of the pieces on Screen Time are short, fragmentary, and sparse, only half-formed, but evocative and atmospheric: ‘The Walk’, a minimal piece consisting of a heavily chorused and echoed guitar trickling a cyclical motif for a minute and fifty-one seconds is exemplary. Elsewhere, ‘The Upstairs’ is a haunting piece led by disorientating, discordant piano that tumbles along.

At times reminiscent of Earth, or more specifically Dylan Carlson’s more recent solo work, Screen Time borders on ambience in its slow, soft unfurlings. The final piece, the nine-minute ‘The Realization’ is almost hypnotic; slow, with deep, resonant notes that reverberate and hover while harmonics chime and soar.

As a listening experience, Screen Time is pleasant, absorbing. I like it. But what does it say? It speaks for Thurston Moore alone, just as any such release can only speak for its composers and performers. That’s ok. When stitched together, in time, all the voices will combine to present the full picture. For now, what simply matters is that each voice keeps adding to the tapestry of documenting the present, a time unlike any other.

AA

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