screen time may be considered only a side project for Thurston Moore, but its cinematic and emotional touchstones make the album an important work in the former Sonic Youth frontman’s solo catalog.
Uploaded to Bandcamp with practically zero fanfare early in February, screen time is another in a long string of experimental side-projects from former Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore. Most of the attention paid to Moore’s solo career is lavished on the handful of records that feature recognizable song structures and his signature flat vocal stylings — in other words, the ones that sound more or less like Sonic Youth. But really, the bulk of his catalog is taken up by one-off instrumental experiments and live noise recordings (totaling nearly 100 releases over the last few decades), often in collaboration with free improvisation titans like Loren Connors or Mats Gustaffson. As its lack of a formal PR rollout indicates, screen time falls into that latter side-project category, but it still stands out amongst the rest of his catalog. Moore’s guitar appears to be the only instrument present here, but these pieces are at least partially composed, most featuring numerous overdubs spread across a wide stereo field. And though it does get dark, it’s an altogether pleasant listen — mostly absent is the chaos and abstraction that might turn listeners off of his more outre improvised work. It’s also markedly different from something like 2019’s epic, Glenn Branca-inflected Spirit Counsel. With a few exceptions, the tracks that make up screen time tend to stay in one place; there’s hardly any linear progression or shifts in dynamics within any given track. At times things almost sound loop-based, but Moore’s playing is too loose to detect any firm patterns.
Opener “the station” layers a few dissonant chords drenched in a chorus effect, with some Derek Bailey-esque scrapes and scratches sprinkled throughout. It’s an eerie stage-setter and fairly representative of what follows. The heavy amounts of processing make it difficult to be certain about exactly what we’re hearing at any given moment, but the percussive strum of an acoustic guitar is at the forefront for much of this record. It’s an unusual choice of instrument by Moore’s standards, but the effect is quite nice, adding another textural dimension to his sonic palette. In a brief release statement, Moore noted that he conceived this music as the score to an imaginary film noir, which gives some context to its stagnant quality; this feels like a collection of discrete mood pieces more than anything else. And with that cinematic comment in mind there is something of an arc that forms, however abstract, with the vague track titles (“the town,” “the neighbor,” etc) providing just enough information to make out a narrative skeleton, while the music and the listener’s imagination fill in the gaps as we move from scene to scene. From the cold arrival at “the station” we soon find ourselves in the comfort of “the home,” an unusually buoyant track that at times almost resembles a wind-up music box, with its slightly detuned strings and staccato plucking. From there, we pass through a number of similarly opaque settings, from the contemplative solace of “the view” through the more ominous atmosphere of “the parkbench,” before arriving finally at “the realization.” But the nearly nine-minute finale isn’t the transcendent climax that its title might suggest. Rather, it’s mired in the same sort of stasis that defines the previous scenes, which becomes a meaningful emotional gesture if one does choose to approach screen time as a narrative — there is no jolting epiphany to be found in this conclusion, merely empty deflation.
Publisher as part of Album Roundup — February 2021 | Part 1.