Body/Head, ‘Coming Apart’ – Album Review
When Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced they were separating two years ago, a million 30-somethings had the hearts of their inner five-year-olds thoroughly crushed. The seemingly perfect parents of grunge and indie rock couldn’t keep it together, and they were going to take their iconic band down with them. Now we get to listen to the musical fallout of a 30-year relationship gone south. While music geek Moore has continued to mine dissonant alt-rock but remain lyrically oblique in his new band Chelsea Light Moving, eternally hip art chick Gordon takes a sharp left turn into abrasive avant-rock and raw emotion with Body/Head, her collaboration with experimental guitarist Bill Nace.
At first, ‘Coming Apart’ feels bracingly different, as Gordon and Nace abandon the more conventional song structures Sonic Youth grew into over the years. But the record actually ends up feeling like a throwback to the ‘80s punk and art scenes from which Sonic Youth sprang. There’s the confrontational gender politics of Lydia Lunch, the Glenn Branca avant-garde sound collages and even a dollop of Suicide’s mesmerizing minimalism. In other words, this is not music for the impatient. Most tracks consist of Nace and Gordon creating a noodley dissonant guitar atmosphere over which Gordon groans and chants a lyric or two. Opener “Abstract” sets the tone immediately, as Gordon intones “I can only think of you in the abstract” over six minutes of guitar abuse.
All of this might be completely off-putting if Gordon weren’t such a talented performance artist. And make no mistake: This is performance art. Each track is designed less for aural pleasure than as an aesthetic background for Gordon to plumb the mindset of various female protagonists — from ‘The Last Mistress’ to an ‘Actress’ to a rape victim in ‘Frontal.’ On each song, she mesmerizes as she commits herself wholly to plunging down into the depths of their psyches. This might not be something you’d reach for every day, but when Gordon deconstructs Nina Simone’s ‘Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,’ turning it from a tome of passionate dedication to a cry of desperation, it makes for a compelling listen.
As for any allusions to the dissolution of her marriage to Thurston Moore, there’s plenty to read between the lines. Gordon claims ‘The Last Mistress’ was inspired by the Catherine Breillat movie of the same name, but when she notes “The last mistress / dogs when they piss / to mark their territory” before mockingly “woof woof”-ing, it’s hard to believe this isn’t pointed in someone specific’s direction.
Nonetheless, the album stands on its own as an artistic statement of purpose, regardless of what subtextural hints of soap opera drama you my find. But after an hour of listening, you’d be justified in wishing the final slices of squawl and psychodrama were followed by rocking Thurstone Moore tunes on the other side.