Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Experimental Rock, Noise-Rock
“It’s not happy music, y’know?” That’s a comment from Kim Gordon on the album from Body/Head, a noise rock duo completed by avant-garde guitarist Bill Nace, and her first work since the break-up of both her marriage to Thurston Moore and of the band they were the centre of for so long, Sonic Youth. SY were a band you never imagined ever splitting up: sure, they’d maybe only make records every now and again as they drifted towards cantankerous old age, but Sonic Youth would always be around, right? With so much wonderful music released in my lifetime, it’s hard to think of a world without any kind of SY record, whether it’s the noise of an SYR release or the gleeful straight-aheadness of something like Dirty. But here we are, and here we have Coming Apart.
With the dissolution of Sonic Youth, we have gotten a look at how the individual songwriters in that band work outside of a collaborative environment. In their respective solo outings, Lee Ranaldo indulged in the hippie singer-songwriter trappings of his youth and Thurston Moore furthered his seeming mid-life crisis with a relatively straight-forward punk album. Kim Gordon is an interesting case, though: her involvement in music didn’t really start until Sonic Youth, so her musical ground zero is inevitably going to be tied to the early work of her former band and the scene in which they came up.
First things first: despite their obvious equal billing on Coming Apart’s cover, it is inevitable that Body/Head, the new performing duo of experimental guitar heroes Kim Gordon and Bill Nace, will be viewed and discussed primarily in terms of Gordon. Sure, Nace has his own history as a mainstay of the scene and frequent collaborator with the likes of Chris Corsano and Paul Flaherty, but Gordon is something of a “superstar,” the kind of musician who gets profiled in The New Yorker and makes guest appearances on Girls. To those of us who’ve grown up with Sonic Youth, and even to those who haven’t, it’s hard not to approach Body/Head as “the new Kim Gordon project.
During her time with Sonic Youth, Kim Gordon's songs were always among the most experimental, so it's no surprise that of the debut albums released by the band's former members, hers is the most challenging. Coming Apart, her first album with guitarist Bill Nace as Body/Head, is a bold, expansive announcement of who she is after spending so much of her career with one of alternative rock's most legendary acts. While there are hints of Sonic Youth here and there -- "Actress"' beginning sounds a little like a funhouse mirror version of "Teenage Riot"'s intro -- an unmistakable feeling of freedom resonates through the album.
The musical approach Kim Gordon and Bill Nace chose for their duo Body/Head seems intentionally restrictive. Both play only guitar. Their songs are slow and sometimes static, an effect enhanced by the near-total absence of beats (and, in concert, by the slowed-down films projected behind them). Gordon sings mostly in monotone, spreading her words out in a glacial rap or moaning them in a breathy whisper.
Invoking and experimenting with the forms of popular music, Kim Gordon and Bill Nace’s full-length debut comes across as an exploration of aesthetic rather than another “alt-rock” record. Songs like “Abstract” echo the dark Eastern dissonance of The Marble Index, while “Black” manages to capture a visceral Leadbelly sensibility through an avant-garde John Cage approach. While it isn’t always necessary to frame or contextualize an album, the dissolution of Sonic Youth and Gordon’s marriage to Thurston Moore may have informed tracks like “Last Mistress” and “Ain’t,” as well as the overall cathartic tone that runs throughout the record.
Body/Head is Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and avant-garde guitarist Bill Nace’s improvised drone project, in which Gordon moans and both play guitar. Easy listening it most certainly is not. Most of it sounds like the weird gothic delta blues bits from The Doors’ lengthy 1967 classic ‘The End’. Much of it focuses on the notion of identity: “I can only think of you in the abstract“, laments Gordon on ‘Abstract’.
Having issued several releases on tiny independent labels, Coming Apart marks the first appearance on Matador for Body/Head, a duo comprising Massachusetts noise artist Bill Nace and Kim Gordon, formerly of Sonic Youth. For many, then, this will mark the first music heard from Gordon since her previous band’s split. Coming Apart is an undeniably challenging, lengthy series of mostly improvised pieces, featuring vocals from Gordon.
Following Sonic Youth’s implosion in 2011, Kim Gordon becomes the final member of the band to release new music in 2013. Unlike her former band mates Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, who have released fairly conventional rock records, Gordon, along with collaborator Bill Nace, has decided to follow the experimental and improvisational path with which the nascent Sonic Youth made their name in the late ’70s No Wave New York. In many ways, the impenetrable, troubling and darkly compelling Body/Head is the sound of Kim Gordon come full circle.
Kim Gordon has had a rough few years. Her marriage disintegrated at the same time as Sonic Youth, the band she and philandering ex-husband Thurston Moore shared for three decades. With Body/Head, the noisy duo the 60-year-old recently formed with guitarist Bill Nace, Gordon shows off her signature, muscular vocal quaver, amid plenty of thunderous Sonic Youth-style feedback and guitar creep.
At this point, it’s kind of hard to be surprised or thrown off by anything Kim Gordon does. Or at least, it shouldn’t be hard. But even after more than 30 years of mashing together art school insubordination with cantankerous, pop-savvy noise rock, the ex-Sonic Youth bassist still has the power to upend expectations. With Body/Head, Gordon makes her first official musical statement following Sonic Youth’s impromptu hiatus in 2011, and judging from her bruised sentiments, there’s zero chance of that moniker hitting lineups anytime soon, if ever.
Body/Head, Kim Gordon’s collaborative project with free-noise extraordinaire Bill Nace, is more experimental, scraping, abrasive, and disarming than anything she has done before; and considering her previous output with Sonic Youth, that’s quite the feat. ‘By ‘Last Mistress’, a mere three tracks in, she’s impersonating canine ‘woof’ noises over Nace’s sinister backdrop, delivering almost Dadaist lyricism like “dogs, when they piss”. ‘Coming Apart’ opens with Kim repeatedly singing “I can only think of you in the abstract,” over a melee of sonic weirdness and directionless guitar riffs.
The thing about experimental noise is that you've got to have the time. A 70 minute double LP like this one is not something you can throw onto your record player to have a quick listen while you do the dishes before work. This album is your work. It demands your concentration, and to be honest, if you don't give it that, I'm not sure what you're going to get out of it.