Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Kim Gordon The Collective


“Bye Bye” doesn’t just sound like a Playboi Carti song. The beat was actually made for Playboi Carti. According to a recent Kim Gordon profile in the New York Times, Justin Raisen — who’s produced for indie-rock pop stars like Sky Ferreira and Yves Tumor, hip-hop weirdos like Lil Yachty and Teezo Touchdown, and even rap superstars like Kid Cudi and Drake — was with his brother Jeremiah over the holidays cooking up music to submit to Carti, Atlanta’s king of fractured, illegible, noise-bombed trap music. When they wrapped up the beat that became “Bye Bye,” the opener and lead single from Gordon’s new album The Collective, Justin recognized it as perhaps too out-there for even Playboi Carti. “But it could be cool for Kim,” he told his brother.

The glory of The Collective — Gordon’s second official solo album, out this week — is the Sonic Youth co-founder’s ability to comfortably step into that kind of decayed SoundCloud rap environment while also infusing it with the experimental rock swagger that has been her own signature for over four decades. The screeching, booming, slow-crawling production feels alien to Gordon’s catalog, but she makes it entirely her own, both with the stream-of-consciousness rich-folks packing list she mutters over top of it (“Milk thistle, calcium, high-rise, boot cut, Advil, black jeans”) and the cataclysmic distortion bombs that eventually consume the song in flames. It is thrilling to hear her not just making essential work at age 70 but still conquering new realms.

There’s plenty of trap in The Collective’s aggressively blown-out sound — music that could almost pass for the disorienting Detroit emcee Veeze going full Death Grips. But you can’t easily file the album under hip-hop or any other genre. I hear traces of hyperpop and shoegaze, but nothing like the easy-listening versions of those sounds that have been almost completely wrung out by TikTok trend-humpers. There are echoes of clattering industrial records and the transgressive “pigfuck” practiced by some of Sonic Youth’s ’80s underground peers. Though punctuated by eerie Loveless squalls, the way “I Don’t Miss My Mind” floats through surreal, haunted space reminds me of Radiohead’s Amnesiac oddity “Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors.” What struck me most about the album’s noisy swirl was a resemblance to EMA, whose own impressionistic dirges owed a lot to Gordon in the first place.

That full-circle connection underlines Gordon’s central place within the lineage of alternative music. A lot of the records refracted through The Collective’s prism might not exist without Gordon’s influence, and she’s spent her life toying around with a wide range of genres. So even as she presses on into wild new frontiers at a career phase when many artists have resigned themselves to nostalgia, even the most surprising turns don’t feel forced. Hip-hop is light years away from where it was when Sonic Youth teamed up with Chuck D and Cypress Hill, but the mere existence of “Kool Thing” and “I Love You Mary Jane” creates some kind of context for the moments when The Collective touches modern rap’s bleeding edge.

It is especially wild that the foundation of this lurching, collapsing noisescape comes from one of the guys who’s shared headlines with Lizzo. After meeting her by chance in a Los Angeles restaurant in 2015, Raisen has struck up an ongoing partnership with Gordon. (Per the Times, she was skeptical at first but pleased to discover that he understands her “minimalist,” “trashy” sensibility.) The pair worked together on 2019’s No Home Record. It was Gordon’s official solo debut and — with all due respect to Body/Head, her awesome noise duo with Bill Nace — her first high-profile, somewhat mainstream-facing creative statement since the 2011 dissolution of Sonic Youth. Like Raisen’s work with Sky Ferreira and Yves Tumor, No Home Record melded elements of rock, pop, rap, and more into its hybrid sound. The Collective builds on that aesthetic in radical, disruptive ways, steering it into darkness and chaos. It’s as if they took the palette of the last record and flipped it into the Upside Down from Stranger Things.

On The Collective, drum programming and waves of distortion collide into nasty sonic weather patterns, as heard in “Bye Bye” and the throbbing cacophony of follow-up single “I’m A Man.” When the space clears out, the relative quiet can be even more disorienting than the noise eruptions. (See: the manipulated vocals that splatter onto the spacious canvas of “The Candy House.”) Later in the tracklist, the focus on beats gives way to melting quagmires of noise, as if the album’s form and structure are decaying in real time, only for the rhythmic foundation to reemerge harsher and less forgiving in the end. It’s an immersive, entrancing listen — music fit for both exhilaration and examination.

Throughout The Collective, partially inspired by prompts from the novelist Rachel Kushner, Gordon keeps digging into themes explored on No Home Record, subjects that animated her work for decades. Songs from the last album like “Air Bnb” dug into the soulless, sanitized rituals of modern consumerism, a thread picked up by “Bye Bye” and other tracks here. She often returns to physical desire and how it’s thwarted by a masculine ideal corrupted by capitalism and caricatures of patriotism. “Don’t call me toxic just ’cause I like your butt!” she exclaims in character on “I’m A Man,” before lamenting, “I’m supposed to save you! But you’ve got a job! You’ve got a degree!” She ends the album on “Dream Dollar” by instructing, “Cement the brand! Cement the brand!”

Such moments of easily discernible meaning are outnumbered by more impressionistic lyrics that paint vivid pictures even when they leave lots of room for interpretation. Often, Gordon’s subjects of interest are as tangled up as the sounds. The song called “Psychedelic Orgasm” begins with talk of sipping on smoothies. On “It’s Dark Inside,” Gordon quips, “They don’t teach clit in school like they do lit/ Pussy Riot/ Pussy Galore,” before commanding, “Send the clowns/ Send in the army/ You want to be American/ Get your gun/ You’re so free/ You can shoot me.” In the sparse confines of “Shelf Warmer,” she beckons, “Pet me on the inside,” then gets into a mundane sequence about return policies, gift receipts, and buyer’s remorse. You can easily envision some garbage from the hotel gift shop purchased as what passes for a romantic gesture on a weekend getaway.

Gordon remains a master of stirring up those kinds of images and sensations. Under her care, lyrics that might read as clumsy satire from some artists hit like sharply observed wisdom. It’s all in the presentation: the stone-faced affect and unflappable cool, but also the carefully cultivated intuition about when to keep things fuzzy and when to briefly, brazenly go overboard. On The Collective, she mashes the sensual and the sterile together in alarming, arresting ways, with a soundtrack that emphasizes the queasiness of daily American life. It’s proof that, after all these years, Kim Gordon is still vibrant and vital — and that when she finally goes someday, she’ll die lit.

The Collective is out 3/8 on Matador.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Ariana Grande’s Eternal Sunshine
• MIKE & Tony Seltzer’s Pinball
• Bleachers’ Bleachers
• Moor Mother’s The Great Bailout
• Meatbodies’ Flora Ocean Tiger Bloom
• Tomato Flower’s No
• Konradsen’s Michael’s Book On Bears
• Tony Shhnow’s Out The Woods
• Judas Priest’s Invincible Shield
• Norah Jones’ Visions
• Bolis Pupul’s Letter To Yu
• Lamplight’s Lamplight
• Discovery Zone’s Quantum Web
• HJirok’s HJirok
• Skeletal Remains’ Fragments Of The Ageless
• The Hanging Stars’ On A Golden Shore
• Dion’s Girl Friends
• Ricki-Lee’s On My Own
• Sonata Arctica’s Clear Cold Beyond
• Eyelids’ No Jigsaw
• Grey Skies Fallen’s Molded By Broken Hands
• Ghost Work’s Light A Candle For The Lonely
• Slow Hollows’ Bullhead
• Erika Angell’s The Obsession With Her Voice
• Torrey’s Torrey
• Astrel K’s Foreign Department
• Slimelord’s Chytridiomycosis Relinquished
• Bktherula’s LVL5 P2
• Michael Head & The Red Elastic Band’s Loophole
• Loreena McKennitt’s The Road Back Home
• Too Close To Touch’s For Keeps
• Luke Grimes’ Luke Grimes
• Domain’s Life’s Cold Grasp
• Edie Anderson’s You Never Knew
• Ethan Larsh’s Into Thine Kingdom Of Heaven
• Kill The Lights’ Death Melodies
• Spence Lee’s S.H.O.T.T.A.
• GHLOW’s Levitate
• Air’s Moon Safari (Deluxe Reissue)
• Nothing’s Guilty Of Everything 10 Year Anniversary Edition
• Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
• The Rolling Stones’ The Rolling Stones Live At The Wiltern
• Taj Mahal’s Swingin’ Live At The Church In Tulsa
• Bananarama’s Glorious: The Ultimate Collection
• Love Child’s Never Meant To Be: 1988-1993
• Thank You, I’m Sorry’s Repeating Threes EP
• Olof Dreijer’s Coral EP
• CocoRosie’s Elevator Angels EP
• Susanna’s The Harmony Of Evening EP
• frex’s Clementine Drive EP
• Purest Form’s Purest Form EP
• Oh Bummer!’s To Be A Part Of The World EP
• Peach Luffe’s Honey EP
• trueandtrue’s Back Into Quiet EP

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