Photography; film; dance - art forms all given the appropriate context. Music too, but in this case more specifically sound, for Body/Head (Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and her friend Bill Nace`s challenging electro-noise/guitar project) is decidedly short on traditional "song". Ever wondered what the most abrasive end of her canon might sound like stripped of all melody? The brutal Coming Apart is certainly one possibility.
Drawing squarely then from Gordon's artistic background (the one-sheet comes replete with the musings of a professor from the Department of Art History at Columbia University no less), Body/Head is a raw concentration of abstract style at the point the conventional disintegrates into the experimental. Coming Apart is thus far from beyond comprehension. There's undeniable substance here, but you've got to work for it.
Gordon's monotonous vocal, for example, is run through her guitar amp and then again through a series of effects pedals. In places it intoxicates. In others, her primal yelping grates. Drawn-out passages of repetitive improvisation, not to mention two huge 10+ minute closers, push the LP over the hour mark. What's to differentiate these jams from others that must be assumed to litter the cutting room floor in the tens if not hundreds? Cherry-picking the stream-of-conscious is a curious concept in itself. What can be inferred from the relationship between Gordon and Nace's dual guitars and this specific running order? That's up to you.
Just as there's a correlation between Art and its audience (between the Body and the Head, if you will), so too is there one between Coming Apart`s meandering simplicity and its scorching feedback. Untamed howls and dissonant crunches are sequenced next to ambient palate cleansers. Fragments of song reverberate in tense strumming and static hiss only then to be annihilated by single droning notes. Off-mic production adds meditative distance to earlier textures while later statements are left to crackle and spark like snippets of degraded sound-check left for forensic audio-techs to piece back together and interpret.
Coming Apart may be confrontational - it inhabits a special space that the uninitiated may deem intolerable even - but Gordon and Nace's throb of industry is merely something to lock horns with and to pit your wits against. Gordon in particular may seem disembodied and disinterested but in reality it's easy to conceive that, given her recent history, she's prowling, sounding out her friends and adversaries ... as well as her next move.
I've followed Sonic Youth since the mid-80's, after hearing Flower and then Evol. I fell hard for them and spent a lot of time tracking down every recording I could find - including the savage Kill Yr Idols EP, featuring the track Early American, a mysterious, nebulous track which seemed challenging even by the standards of early Youth. My fave band, I bought and devoured every record they made up to The Eternal and, while I love them all, I often wished they'd produced more stuff like that song. Post break up, we've had a couple of solo releases by both Lee and Thurston, as well as the Chelsea Light Moving LP - all fine records, but safe and unadventurous, reliant on song craft more than improvisation. Keeping the noise-love for the Ltd Ed's, boys? Then we have this, Coming Apart. Here I found the spirit of Early American - thrilling and challenging amplified electricity, mysterious, weird and sometimes unsettling. Songs, definitely, but often more about contrasting textures of voice / guitar / noise than lyrics, and obviously aware of the story of free music (I'ts easy to see Black, a take on Black Is The Colour Of My True Love's Hair as a response to the legendary / infamous version by Patty Waters, a much referenced out-rock, free music touchstone), which makes the pairing of Kim (SY's long time Jazz fan) with Bill Nace more obvious than some might think. It's not a perfect LP - too long, for one thing, which makes for an endurance test aspect that's unnecessary - but for anyone interested in music from the hinterlands of rock, or who misses the untamed thrills of early SY, this is more than worth a listen or twelve. And let's put this in context: some reviewers have been sniffy about Kim Gordon's abilities as a musician and creative force. Shame on you! An easy money route would have been to hit the heritage route with a band like the Pixies (Kim 3?), guest star on albums by younger, hipper artists or make music under the wing of a name producer. Instead, we get a gutsy record pursuing ideas and sounds present but (for me) under represented in The Yoof's music during the last couple of decades. And at it's best, it flippin' rocks!
So here we have yet another arty piece of nonsense that people will undoubtedly be claiming is a masterpiece of modern times.
It's debatable whether Kim Gordon was ever actually a talented individual since the start and now she no longer has Sonic Youth to hide behind it becomes clear that she has about as much going for her musically as a million other noise making nobodies.
Yes, it's all very artistic and confrontational but is it good? NO. It's hard not to think that she could have done absolutely anything and people would have still lapped it up, but sadly being an infamous indie icon doesn't hide the utter lack of quality on display here.
Sonic Youth were one of the finest guitar bands of all time and are more than deserving of their cult status. The reason they were so good was the diverse and exciting crossover of individuals involved. Lee Randaldo and Thurston Moore obviously being at the forefront of the classic guitar sound and the endless stream of great songs, and even Kim Gordon's unpleasant grumbling and sporadic one note bass lines added perfectly to the chaos. Sadly without SY we have Chelsea Light Moving who are OK at best and this excuse of a record.
I'm sure some people will love every guitar bashing tortured yell but being a long term fan of both SY and experimental music in general I personally find this to just be embarrassing.