The last chapter of Kim Gordon’s 2015 memoir, Girl in a Band, is a kind of epilogue—a bridge to the next volume in the long life of the indie-rock icon. Sonic Youth is over, and so is Gordon’s marriage to bandmate Thurston Moore. Their daughter, Coco, is off at art school. Gordon has left the family’s brick homestead in Northampton, Massachusetts, but instead of returning to New York, where she was a paragon of Downtown cool since 1981, she heads out to Los Angeles, where she grew up. By the book’s final pages, she is wintering at a hilltop Airbnb in Echo Park—a temporary landing pad for the permanent business of starting over. She is making visual art again; she’s showing in L.A. and has gallery representation in New York. Then, as she sits in someone’s car outside her rental, making out, she turns to the reader to confess, “I know, it sounds like I’m someone else entirely now, and I guess I am.”
No Home Record—which, incredibly, is Gordon’s first solo album in 38 years of making music—offers evidence of her reinvention: Even longtime fans may find themselves thunderstruck by some of the turns she takes here. But the record also confirms the essence of her creative identity; it’s shot through with sounds and concepts that have defined her work over the years, just presented in a way we’ve never heard them before.
This isn’t the first music Gordon has made since Sonic Youth called it quits, in 2011. She and guitarist Bill Nace have three records under their belt as Body/Head, all recorded in the years since the band dissolved. But where the squall of Body/Head’s dual-guitar improv occupies a space not far from SY’s stomping grounds, No Home Record offers something radically new and, in places, almost shockingly contemporary.
It’s safe to assume that not many people expected an overdriven trap banger with an African thumb-piano melody as one of the highlights of Gordon’s solo debut—but here we are, and “Paprika Pony” is enthralling: druggy and hypnotic, the kick drum like a cross between a sheet of thunder and a crumpled paper bag. Over an ominous, skulking beat, Gordon half-mutters, half-whispers a free-associative path through the alleys of her mind.
As much as Sonic Youth’s whirlwind sound could feel like a self-contained entity, there were occasional glimpses of the world outside, like Gordon’s karaoke-booth Robert Palmer cover on 1989’s Ciccone Youth’s The Whitey Album, or her duet with Public Enemy’s Chuck D on 1990’s “Kool Thing.” No Home Record is clearly interested in getting the hell away from the strictures of noise and indie rock as they’re conventionally understood. The opening “Sketch Artist” might have been made by avant-rap groups like clipping. or Death Grips—an overwhelming bass blast that summons all the slow violence of an earth mover churning up everything in its path.
From interviews, it sounds like neither Gordon nor her co-producer, Justin Raisen—a Los Angeles producer who has worked with Yves Tumor and Charli XCX—expected the album to turn out quite like this. Gordon was fiddling around with an old drum machine, listening to the Stooges and footwork producer RP Boo; as inspiration, she sent Raisen an old Sonic Youth B-side called “Razor Blade,” a scrappy acoustic trifle. Then, three years ago, they made “Murdered Out,” a malevolent hurricane of a song, and the record’s direction was settled.
Some songs are more low-tech—“Air BnB” is a mammoth slab of bluesy, atonal rock, “Earthquake” is a shimmering drone-folk opus—but the most exciting moments are giddy with the sense of worlds colliding. Noise, techno, and post-punk; custom-tuned guitars and battered MPCs; 808s and overheated bass amps—multiple strains of underground music history pushing together like tectonic plates, building up extreme pressure under the surface. The album’s energy, too, suggests a fusion of New York and Los Angeles, equally suited for stomping down a crowded city sidewalk and sitting in traffic. Whether heard on headphones or car stereo, the crushing bass and battering-ram drums feel like a protective exoskeleton—ideal armor for the days you simply cannot abide another living soul getting in your fucking way.
Where Girl in a Band’s prose was was full of “a lot of read-between-the-lines stuff, which is how I am anyway,” as Gordon claims, No Home Record is similarly ambiguous, layering snapshots of an American culture in decline with lines it’s hard not to read as autobiographical. “Get Yr Life Back,” a smoldering, no-wave approximation of trip-hop, surveys the wreckage with an almost animal intensity. On the vulnerable “Earthquake,” she sings—really sings, in a way she almost never does—“This song is for you/If I could cry and shake for you,” before unleashing the hidden blade: “You want me to see you/Are you 12?” (It’s one of several jabs aimed at oblivious man-children.) And the brutally unsparing “Murdered Out” flips the image of customized cars with tinted windows into an unambiguous fuck you: “Murdered out of my heart/Covered in black matte spray/Will you see when I’m not there/…You didn’t even know who I became.”
Even at her most pointed, it’s the ambiguities that keep things interesting. Is the giddy chorus of “Air Bnb” (“Air BnB!/Gonna set me free!”) a sardonically peppy sendup of late-capitalist shibboleths, or a genuine celebration of second chances? Probably a little of both. Gordon’s most trenchant truths are not in her words, but in her voice. She has frequently demurred that she is not a singer, but “singer” is far too limiting a word for what she does anyway. In Sonic Youth, her voice could be a jagged knife, a lover’s confession, steam rising from a subway grate. On No Home Record, she takes advantage of a newfound sense of space in the music to explore the limits of her expressiveness, whispering in ASMR-grade tones, the mic so close you can hear her licking her lips between syllables.
The best exploration of her voice’s capabilities is “Cookie Butter.” Zoom out, and it’s clear that the song’s interwoven “I” and “you” statements are meant to underscore the way miscommunication is threaded through human relationships. Up close, though, her two-word statements take on a hypnotic minimalism, the force of repetition leaching meaning out of the actual words: “I saw/I’ve known/I remember/I liked/I met/I awaken/I wish/I have/I suck/I approach/I fucked…” On and on it goes, Gordon not so much speaking the words as carving out the syllables with her teeth, until the phrases come to seem almost sculptural, like a series of small statuettes lined up in a row. The song is an artful capstone to a thrilling debut album, one that is an ingenious fusion of sound and idea and a fearless celebration of second acts.
Buy: Rough Trade
(Pitchfork may earn a commission from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.)