Of all the solo projects to emerge following Sonic Youth's untimely break-up, those released by guitarist / bassist Kim Gordon have produced the most interesting results. Lee Ranaldo or Thurston Moore might have been the more obvious candidates for that accolade, given how both have spent years prominently immersing themselves in improv and experimental frameworks, but for now at least, Gordon is winning the day. Her recent single with producer Justin Raisen signalled an intention to get down and dirty with the darker side of rock, while her albums with free / noise guitarist Bill Nace under the name Body/Head have found the pair jamming loosely around guitar music’s murkiest periphery.
'No Waves' captures Gordon and Nace onstage in Tennessee in 2014, supporting the release of their debut LP 'Coming Apart'. It's both what you'd want and what thrills about this pairing – impenetrable vocals, splinters of guitar warped by distortion and a layered interplay that at times feels like being trapped inside a tsunami made entirely of cacophonous axe-work.
Though it might sound like Gordon and Nace are exploring the freeform horn-locking intensity that used to prevail whenever Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo decided to go off-piste in a song, Body/Head still sounds, on some level, connected to the ür-spring of all rock, the blues. The mid-section of the second track here, 'The Show Is Over' finds an evocative harmonica drifting through a quiet moment of guitar introspection, before getting promptly drowned by aggravated guitar riffs.
The 23-minute third track here ('Abstract/Actress') is, conceptually, the most interesting through the piece’s slowly-building architecture. Whereas the other two tracks are curt, almost punky in their abrupt noisy intrusiveness, 'Abstract/Actress' starts with Spartan emptiness and builds to a crushing, violent density, before ebbing away again into near-stillness, several times over. It's all highly considered, despite its nihilistic tendencies, but cloyingly intense all the same.
'No Waves' is aptly named. It might suggest a sense of millpond calm and stillness, but within seconds, as your ears adjust to the stormy squalls of sound buffeting them, naming it thus has a oxymoronic quality. I like to think there's mode to it than that: Gordon came up through the No Wave alternative rock scene in the US that blunted the sharper edges of New Wave, while Nace is of a like-minded next generation, where the vision of the likes of Sonic Youth and Glenn Branca has found kindred spirits in himself, Chris Corsano and a raft of other restive players. In that context, calling this 'No Waves' suggests a symbolic sympatico bond between the duo, best evidenced by the graceful way that Gordon and Nace hone in on controlling this beautiful racket with apparent ease.
Words: Mat Smith / @mjasmith
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