No Home Record
Sonic Youth famously imploded in 2011 due to guitarist Thurston Moore’s rather shocking infidelity in his marriage to bassist Kim Gordon. The fallout was pretty intense, it obviously ended the band. And it also clearly caught both the other guitarist, Lee Ranaldo, and drummer Steve Shelley in the middle. And that says nothing of Sonic Youth’s legion of fans. Me, I haven’t forgiven Moore yet.
Moore, Gordon, and Ranaldo have moved on musically. Sort of. Moore still makes Sonic Youth-sounding music that reminds me why I loved that band in the first place. But he always seems a little hollow without Ranaldo’s duelling six-strings and Gordon’s vocals and bass behind him. Shelley has played with him since the split. Ranaldo has gone in a whole different direction with his current band, The Dust. Ranaldo and the Dust play more mellow, acoustic-tinged music. Ranaldo’s music is straight-forward, gone are the bizarre tunings, the distortion, and all that made his songs with SY so amazing. I still can’t decide if I like his new sound. And then Gordon. First, she messed around with Body/Head, a noise outfit with guitarist Bill Nace. They released their début album in 2013. And then she formed another experimental band, Glitterburst with Alex Knost. Note the similarities, they are both experimental, as has the rest of her musical and artistic output since 2011.
In a lot of ways, Gordon was the most experimental member of SY, both in her own songs the band performed and her vocals. No Home Record is her first proper solo album. It is many things at once. I suppose it could be called experimental. It is also the most straight-forward music she has made since SY. Songs are clearly defined, she even throws us a few choruses. It is also brilliant.
This is also the most straight-forward Kim Gordon-sounding thing she’s done since SY split. Drawing from her own past as a bassist and guitarist, she also pulls in from drum and bass, EDM, and various other forms of music. My niece suggests a linkage from SY’s 1985 experiment with Mike Watt, Ciccone Youth. I admit, I can see it, the difference being that sucked and this doesn’t. No Home Record also shows an artist who refuses to be pigeon-holed, refuses to do the same thing over and over again, and insists on following her own curiousities and interests as an artist, wherever they may take her. She owns these songs, as in she commands this record. This is not something, I don’t think, many artists can do, even on their own output.
This is an LA album in so many ways. Los Angeles is actually from whence Gordon hails, having moved to New York in the late 1970s, and then she and Moore moved to Western Massachusetts after 9/11. She has since returned home. It is LA in the observation of American capitalism, of the idea of purchasing utopia, of the pastiche-nature of the music (which calls to mind, to some degree, early Beck). Her bassline also brings the funk in places, which recalls the great funk and R&B of LA, and even the gangsta rap of the late 80s/early 90s. But she is most interested in transience on No Home Record.
I didn’t read the part of the press release that explains the meaning of the album. I don’t really want to know, I want my own meaning of the album title to matter more than hers, as I see the idea of the title as a documentation of the idea of transience and movement, something I imagine she knows about given the ways in which her world has shifted in the past decade.
The press release does say that ‘You don’t simply listen to Gordon’s music; you experience it.’ Press releases are oftentimes just rehashed bullshit, but, in this case, her PR folk got her bang on. This is not an album you put on in the background whilst you are doing something else, like clean the house or grade papers (I tried that last week, bad move). It demands that you sit back and pay attention to it, to listen to it. Not just for her vocals, which come at us in multiple registers from song to song, with effects and without (the effects are most notable on ‘Don’t Play It’), but also the music, as the sounds are just so varied and draw on nearly everything and are produced, in some cases, within an inch of their life (‘Don’t Play It’ being such an example, sounding like PiL in 1979 filtered through 1980s funk and the Beastie Boys. This track is her greatest skewering of the idea of buying utopia, and our fixation on finding self in that process.
She has said in interviews that this was a fun album to make, which seems pretty obvious. Despite the pastiche of music, her voice is self-assured and constant throughout. In an interview with Vogue, she reports that this album began with her messing around with an old drum machine and an idea to make ‘a weird jazz record,’ but of course, that is not how things worked out. It does sound like No Home Record is not the album either she nor her producer Justin Raisen (who has worked with artists as diverse as John Cale, Billy Corgan, Marissa Nadler, and Charli XCX) intended.
We are all the richer for it.