When Free Radicals Become Free Agents

‘Two decades and 17 Sonic Youth records later, Moore is only now releasing his second solo album of proper songs, Trees Outside the Academy. (He released the ragtag punk-rock masterpiece Psychic Hearts in 1995, and has dabbled in various free-jazz side projects along the way.) The big surprise? It’s folky. And it kind of sounds like a Fahey record. Tracks like "Frozen Gtr" and "The Shape Is in a Trance" feature delicately strummed, alternately tuned acoustic guitars and beautiful, swirling violin arrangements. So what gives? Why abandon the full-throttle, no-wave guitar suicide that Moore pioneered for a roots-rock style perfected decades ago? "Because coming out of the New York punk-rock scene, it’s the last thing people would expect you to do," says Moore. In other words, folk is the new punk.

‘A lot has changed for the 49-year-old. For one thing, he and his wife, Sonic Youth bassist and singer Kim Gordon, left downtown New York in 1999 for the leafy suburbs of Northampton, Massachusetts, where they bought a Georgian-style brick house with a nice yard. They could no longer afford New York. Plus, their daughter, Coco, was growing up, and Moore loathed Gotham’s competitive parents. ("The last thing I wanted to do was become a part of the whole PTA scene," he says.) But more attractive to the couple was the burgeoning group of downtown writers, artists, and academics that found new life in the Berkshire Mountains region. Plus, they could get dogs: Merzbow (after the Japanese noise musician) and Chime. "When we moved here, the headline on the local paper was, like, ‘Avant-Garde Duo Buys Home,’ " Moore recalls with a snicker. "But we’re pretty conservative. This isn’t like a rock ‘n’ roll house."’ (Village Voice article).

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