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.
Coming Apart is less of a collection of songs than a performance art piece. The duo of Gordon and Nace use their duelling, dissonant guitars to create swathes of portentous if intoxicating noise that are often abrasive and chilling. Melody is almost completely discarded. Any enjoyment gained from listening to Coming Apart is of a perverse and macabre variety. Listening to the album is instead often tortuous; yet it is also compelling. It’s like a horror move that you can’t turn away from despite it chilling every fibre of your being.
Almost every song, be it Abstract’s bluesy, crepuscular lurch or Everything Left’s dizzying, discordant swirl of noise renders you discombobulated and immobilised. Despite the abstract nature of the music though, there is a strong sense of self-running through the album. Gordon’s voice is often high in the mix; without any percussion or beats around it, it makes for an eerie, powerful presence. On the white noise crescendo of Aint, Gordon describes the power of her own body and being by describing owning each part of her body. Lines like “I’ve got my head” or “I’ve got my fingers” could easily sound childlike and corny, but against such unsettling music they become supremely strong statementsof power.
Despite Gordon being to the fore she is very much an equal partner in Body/Head, with the restlessly discordant, squalling guitars of Bill Nace just as important. The duo’s melding of tones and noise can often make for a thrilling combination. But there’s no doubt that Coming Apart is a difficult listen; the album’s closing songs Black and Frontal run to 13 and 17 minutes respectively. Frontal’s atonal drone, featuring some possessed yelps and screams by Gordon, is particularly challenging. These evocations of sonic expressionism are very much un-musical. If Body/Head’s desire is to challenge and unsettle the listener then Coming/Apart is a triumph.
Coming Apart, despite sounding little like Sonic Youth or, indeed, like almost anything at all, is a return to the questing visionary spirit that guided Gordon through her early musical years. It may be unpalatable and difficult but it is a debut album that should at least be commended for its dark, experimental ambition.