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. As a result, Gordon’s debut album with Body/Head, her new band with collaborator Bill Nace, finds its origins in the avant-garde guitar noise that made up the first handful of Sonic Youth albums. The end result is the aptly-titled Coming Apart, a collection of screeching guitars and obtuse poems that are surprisingly raw and emotional, even as they try to keep the listener at arm’s length.
There are probably some Sonic Youth fans out there who scrounged Moore and Ranaldo’s solo albums for clues about the internal strife that led to the band’s hiatus, but Coming Apart can’t help but be interpreted this way, especially after Gordon revealed the reason for her and Moore’s breakup in an interview earlier this year. Still, if that doesn’t convince you about what Coming Apart is possibly saying, Gordon makes things a little easier by naming a song “Last Mistress” and using the lyric “dogs when they piss to mark their territory.” Crude, yes, but there’s something to be read into there. Even as Gordon tries to conceal her personal feelings with a veneer of deliberate obfuscation, Coming Apart ends up finding her as emotionally naked as she could possibly be.
It also helps that Gordon and Nace have honed their craft expertly throughout the course of the album. For a project born out of improvisation, Coming Apart is a surprisingly cohesive piece. Gordon and Nace’s familiarity and experience with this music shine through each song as they hold together the chaos they unleash. Even the most meandering pieces on the album — the lengthly closing numbers “Black” and “Frontal” — don’t stray so far as to become futile exercises. For those who weren’t as partial to the noisier side of Sonic Youth, one can find comfort in hearing Gordon’s voice at its best; coming off the guttural howling that made up most of The Eternal, Gordon’s more subtle vocals are a comfort to the screeching feedback behind her.
What’s most satisfying about Coming Apart is the confrontational aspect of it: at a moment when her former bandmates have only given listeners their slight takes on conventional rock, Gordon has made an album that grabs listeners and demands their attention. More than a curio from a legendary songwriter, Coming Apart is a fresh start for Gordon, one that points her in a more promising musical direction than her former comrades. One could argue that Body/Head aren’t doing anything necessarily new in the realm of noise, but it’s as vital a work in the genre as we’re going to hear this year.