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Body/Head (Kim Gordon/Bill Nace)

Body/Head – 'Coming Apart' album review

An austere, disturbing and subtly beautiful debut from the new Kim Gordon project

By James Manning
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Over the years, Kim Gordon and Bill Nace have done their fair share of using and abusing electric guitars. Gordon played with Sonic Youth for 30 years until the band (and her relationship with guitarist Thurston Moore) dissolved in 2011; though primarily the band’s bassist, she started picking up the guitar in the mid-’90s. Nace has played with various deafeningly loud avant-rock projects in the Northeast US, including Vampire Belt. Now, together, Nace have put their collective experience to good use on ‘Coming Apart’: their austere, disturbing and subtly beautiful debut album as Body/Head.

Much of the album consists of long, improvised noise passages, recorded live with minimal overdubbing: a process which Gordon has called ‘scripted improvisation’. As that suggests, there are elements of pre-planned songcraft. Most tracks have lyrics, sung or spoken in Gordon’s husky, off-key moan, and some established parts where the guitar lines lock tightly together.

The key to the album, though, is in the spontaneous clangs, whirs, thuds, swoops and throbs that Nace and Gordon wring from their instruments. They can have extreme results. One track, ‘Murderess’, matches a wailing vocal and folk-ballad lyrics from Gordon with a pounding low-frequency oscillation that would come with a compulsory migraine warning were the song more than a minute and eight seconds long. That’s an extreme example – ‘Last Mistress’ is more typical of the rest of the album, starting from a relatively conventional chord sequence and smothering it in a low drone over the course of almost seven minutes.

At over an hour (the last two tracks alone come to 30 minutes), ‘Coming Apart’ can feel like a slog. Gordon is aware of this: ‘It’s kind of intense to listen to in one setting,’ she’s said; ‘it’s not happy music.’ Nope – but dive deep, get thoroughly immersed, and you start to realise that ‘Coming Apart’ is full of beautiful details. You’ll find an upbeat, almost pop guitar line buried in ‘Can’t Help You’, or suddenly come across the rich and strange finger-picking on ‘Frontal’, or the warm, almost lullaby-like ‘Untitled’.

Once you get into it, in fact, it’s a rewarding process – and not totally different to listening to Gordon’s old band, either. At its calmest moments, ‘Coming Apart’ recalls Sonic Youth’s more recent soundtrack work (particularly Gordon’s ‘Blink’, composed for the film ‘Pola X’), and at its harshest it harks back to Gordon’s roots in the New York no-wave scene. Curious to know what Kim did next? Don’t worry. As long as you aren’t expecting any ‘Kool Thing’ retreads, there’s plenty here to love. Buy this album here

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