by Olivia Mastrosimone
Kim Gordon is notoriously indifferent to her icon status. She was the frontwoman of the now-defunct Sonic Youth, which was arguably the most influential New York art-rock band since the Velvet Underground. Her seemingly constant presence at the forefront of music, fashion, and art has made her into an indisputable figurehead of all things underground cool for the last four decades.
But Gordon doesn’t rest on her legendary laurels and is quick to dismiss them with a certain apathy that fits with her indie disposition. “Being referred to as an ‘icon,’ blah blah blah,” she said recently in an interview with the New York Times, “What does that even mean?”
No Home Record easily finds a home within the idea of Gordon, as an icon, legend, visionary – you name it. The album, full of unsparing noise and disjointed lyrics, complemented with an undercurrent of irony, is confusing and, at times, shockingly contemporary. It’s rough, tumultuous – mesmerizing in a way that inevitably pulls you in as if the songs were sucking you into a black hole of overheated bass and dissonance. But it has to be asked: would No Home Record stand a chance without Gordon’s name attached to it?
Some moments, yes. And some, no.
Gordon has shown an impressive ability to combine the old and the new while managing to create a sound that redefines herself outside of the confines of Sonic Youth. “Air BnB,” a sardonic ode to the gig economy, connects 70s No Wave with the more mischievous end of digital production. “Paprika Pony” is perhaps the most unexpected track on the album, and absolutely consuming even with its lack of development. It’s druggy and dense, despite the kick drum sounds like it was recorded in a tin can. Over a haunting, out of tune marimba melody and unchanging, skulking beat, Gordon mutters a disconnected string of lyrics like a path through the uncharted gullies of her mind: “I write back for some unending / Sound chords / A few words falling across the round / Golden.”
There are some tracks that may be easier to approach for fans of Sonic Youth, though those looking for nostalgia and sentiment may still be disappointed. “Murdered Out,” originally released in 2016 in collaboration with avant-pop producer Justin Raisen (Sky Ferreira, Charlie XCX), is a booming, noisy track that calls on Gordon’s musical past while also displaying out of character vocal and musical textures. Its power doesn’t rely on the ferocity or dissonance of Gordon’s former band. The track saunters with a slick bassline and beat, played live by Warpaint’s drummer Stella Mozgawa, the production giving off a sense of pure smugness not present on even the coolest Sonic Youth songs. Similarly, “Hungry Baby” sounds like something out of Sonic Youth’s Confusion is Sex period – a scuzzy, clattering track with screeching guitars and lurching vocals that walks the line between discordance and melody. But, like “Murdered Out,” the track feels more pop with its simple melody and structure.
However, there are certain moments on No Home Record where Gordon does seem to lean on her reputation as an artist who has historically been at the cutting edge of her fields. The commentaries on some tracks feel forced in a way that comes off as presuming and hollow. The tracks “Don’t Play It” and “Cookie Butter” have provocative, intoxicating effects, but feel like a mid-record slump. Both have lyrics so satirical and repetitive they feel false, and the minimal development of similar overblown, simplistic basslines and percussion grow tiresome. Admittedly, it has become difficult to perform well-executed social commentary in a culture of such palpable irony, but hearing Gordon grumble about Twitter and yoga-studios feels contrived.
The end of No Home Record, however, is a true testament to Gordon’s artistry. “Earthquake” is the most straightforward song on the album, with husky vocal tones over drifting guitars and crescendos of cymbals reminiscent of the more experimental tracks on Daydream Nation. On the album closer “Get Yr Life Back,” her voice isn’t much more than a whisper surrounded by a clanking metallic rhythm and pockets of guitar feedback. Both display the honesty and authenticity No Home Record seems like it was intended to convey throughout. Gordon’s vulnerability and growth come through in her strained vocals and more emotional lyrics, especially on “Earthquake:” “This song is for you / If I could cry and shake for you/ I’d lay awake for you/ I’ve got sand in my heart for you”
Gordon has experienced lots of endings recently. Her band, her marriage, her life in New York. She’s spent the last few years redefining herself as an artist and person outside of Sonic Youth, and her first solo album is a record that surprises in its success with pushing some musical boundaries and separating its author from her legacy. With No Home Record, Gordon speaks for herself.