Since Sonic Youth’s abrupt 2011 split, Kim Gordon has chosen an uncompromising path. This should hardly be surprising; her abrasive vocals were always among the most challenging elements within the group’s avant-rock arsenal. But along with writing an unsparing memoir, Girl in a Band, and refocusing a hitherto sidelined visual art career, Gordon has also embraced ambient improvisation with Bill Nace as Body/Head, teamed up with surfer Alex Knost as abstract noisers Glitterbust, and combined acerbic blank verse with loops, basslines and feedback for her debut solo album, 2019’s No Home Record. Reliving past glories is, it seems, not her style.
The Covid-enforced delay in taking No Home Record on the road has clearly given Gordon a chance to live within these songs, and for her new band to flesh out their antagonistic grooves. While much of No Home Record’s power lay in its starkness, Gordon’s band – guitarist Sarah Register, bassist Camilla Charlesworth and drummer Madison Vogt – add a chaotic, human energy to the machine music. Chugging like a no-wave jam band, they locate a dark, swaggering punk-rock within Air BnB, then glower subtly as elemental drum machines rattle like trap music on Paprika Pony.
But Gordon is always the focus, a noir-ish figure in pearlescent shirt and black cravat, artfully mauling her guitar and growling like the bastard child of Iggy Pop and Alan Vega. There’s no sense of her coasting on the considerable cred she’s accrued from decades as an underground figurehead. Instead, Gordon is restless, channelling traumas on the heavy industrial slither of Murdered Out, and turning the male gaze inside-out on the dark glam-stomp of Hungry Baby. There are moments of sweetness: the dreamy ambient glide of Earthquake; a joyful thrash through DNA’s no wave cornerstone Blonde Redhead. But most of these songs are like bared nerves, like shorting power lines just waiting to flame out. That final eruption comes on the closing Grass Jeans, witheringly dedicated to “the, uh, American ‘democratic experiment’”, and as Gordon scales her amp and hammers her guitar at the wall to ecstatic cheers, the resulting noise-out is cathartic and thrilling.
Kim Gordon is on a UK tour until 26 May.