Near the start of this wildly abstract collaboration, Yoko Ono seems tocackle "Mwah-ha-ha!" amid the groans, chants, improvised poetry, and impressionistic sex noises. Humor was often part of the pioneering sound-arts he explored with John Lennon – alongside joy, fury, lust, and glossolalic craziness. And so it is here. Recorded in 2011 before Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced their separation, the voice-and-guitar cacophony might suggest avant-garde couples counseling to Sonic Youth fans.
KIMTHURSTONUnbalanced interaction, disproportionate impetus: a pair of compelling forces that have constituted a colossal dynamical system over the last three decades, determined by a permanent flux of energy that never headed toward an equilibrium but, on the contrary, was propelled by the lack of it. Instead of a Daoist metaphysical interplay, Gordon and Moore’s functioning resembled the laws of entropy: a disordered entity pulled by gravitational potential, prompting irreversible events that pervasively flowed in several sonic directions and slowly collapsed against conventional pop forms. These macro-forces, as their cosmic counterparts, had to eventually consume themselves in the long-term.
Like many valuable artists, Yoko Ono has long been a polarizing force, equally famous and controversial in circles of art and music. YOKOKIMTHURSTON is a collaborative effort between Ono and two of Sonic Youth's lead creative forces, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore. Though the trio worked together before this album, it marks the continuation of Gordon and Moore's creative work together following the end of their 27-year-long marriage earlier in 2012.
The first time I visited New York City, back in the ‘90s, I felt like I was being followed around the city by ghosts, or rather following them around. Not dead people, mind you, but the people, living or fictional that I associate with New York City, a city that before this had mainly existed for me in my imagination. Woody Allen characters were chief among them, and Seinfeld characters, the Ramones and various hip-hop legends.
A couple of years ago – before Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced they were separating after over 30 years of marriage – a video surfaced online of the couple performing alongside Yoko Ono, squatting over rows of pedals and cradling guitars to perform Mulberry, which was first recorded in 1968. While I enjoyed their unbridled experimentation, it seemed to me a very awkward performance: Moore and Gordon were exploring the possibilities of their guitars outside the alt-rock posturing they helped define. Moreover, they seemed somewhat cramped, (it was more serious than the feckless experimentation of their SYR series), and neither of them seemed engaged with the restraints of this setting.
The most surprising thing about YOKOKIMTHURSTON is that it took until 2012 to happen. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have long been vocal cheerleaders for #TeamYoko, whether enlisting their daughter Coco to "cover" one of Ono's earliest scream experiments ("Voice Piece for Soprano") on 1999's SYR 4: Goodbye 20th Century, or penning fan-letters-as-song ("Ono Soul", from Moore's 1995 solo effort, Psychic Hearts), even though they don't seem to be big fans of Double Fantasy. Ono, for her part, has welcomed interaction with her various alt-rock progeny-- most notably on 2007's indie star-studded remix collection Yes I'm a Witch-- but the fact that an artist who averages a couple of new albums per decade has devoted a full-length collaboration to Kim and Thurston suggests that indie rock's perennial power couple must hold a special place in her heart.
The main similarity between Yoko Ono and Sonic Youth is that while they’re both ultimately pop artists, they’re more well-known for their avant-garde work. That doesn’t mean, say, “Fly” or “Improvisation Ajoutée” are famous, just that people know they make horrible noises, which scare them away from sometimes even learning that they make normal ones too. Yoko Ono’s a lifelong pariah to those ultimate canonists, Beatles crazies, and still-technically-married Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore along with the absent Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley comprised the classic lineup of Sonic Youth, this reviewer’s favorite band, which at the moment is either gone or missing.
Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon have a pretty intense artistic streak coursing through their veins, and with more than a dozen studio albums under their belts as the collective brain trust behind Sonic Youth, they’ve got the chops to prove it. But while venturing into the avant garde isn’t a stretch for the pioneering indie rockers, there are still times when their cerebral art-rock tendencies drift too far into no-man’s land. But they don’t always make it that far out into the abyss on their own.