Ambient Sonic Guitar Debris: Brian Flota on Glitterbust's Self-Titled Full Length
With Body/Head's Coming Apart, Kim Gordon easily made the best album by a former member of Sonic Youth, the legendary alternative rock band she was a member of for thirty years. That album, consisting of Gordon and the comparatively obscure guitarist Bill Nace, combined with her solid memoir Girl in a Band (2015), seemed to exorcise some of the lingering resentments that developed in the aftermath of her split from ex-husband and former SY bandmate Thurston Moore. Now, Gordon is back with an album that is in many ways very similar to the brooding Coming Apart with a new group that is very similar to Body/Head Glitterbust's self-titled debut, on the happening indie label Burger Records, pairs Gordon with the similarly deep-cut guitarist Alex Knost (of the Orange County band Tomorrows Tulips). Instead of the gut-wrenching catharsis of Coming Apart, Glitterbust finds Gordon having a little fun. That being said, this isn't the kind of music you'll listen to at a party where the beer is flowing and the clothes are coming off. Like Coming Apart, Glitterbust contains some of the best aimless, meandering music you're likely to ever hear. Working almost exclusively with relatively simple rhythmless chord patterns and light guitar feedback atmospherics, Glitterbust works best when building from a base of ambient sonic guitar debris. From there, the performances (I don't know if these tracks can be described as "songs") build slowly.
Following the album's opener and lone "throwaway" track, "Soft Landing," "Repetitive Drifter" forms the blueprint for the remainder of the album, which consists of four "performances," each exceeding nine minutes in length. "Repetitive Drifter" begins with a two-chord figure that d/evolves into a meditative, evocative excursion. Sure, it returns to its rather tenuous architecture near the end of its eleven-minute run time, but its path there is so ethereal that it seems like a new song.
When dealing with Kim Gordon's musical output, it's very difficult not to compare it to the act she's most associated with, Sonic Youth. Where Sonic Youth reigned in the dissonant musical attack with the organized chaos provided by their fantastic drummer Steve Shelley (and let's not forget their first drummers either: Bob Bert and Richard Edson), Gordon and her much younger male collaborators (Nace and now Knost) engage in a much freer version of the SY model. "Erotic Resume," the third track on Glitterbust, is a perfect example of this. Sonic Youth's music, while adventurous, was at its best when it avoided danger. Think of songs like "Washing Machine," "Rain King," or the subUrbia version of "Sunday": just when you think they are about to fall off the precipice, they return to their version of safety. Gordon and Knost's guitar excursions, free from the conventional rock trappings of a rhythm section, steer into the danger, into the musical quicksand.
Kim Gordon, who will turn 64-years-old at the end of the month, is proving that her art is only getting more vital, which is not usually the case for rock musicians nearing the Septembers of their years. Instead of settling for becoming a nostalgia act on which to build the last remnants of a nest egg, Gordon is as restless and expressive as ever. While I think Body/Head's Coming Apart is the better of the two albums, Glitterbust is nevertheless an extremely effective experimental album that is clearly not for all tastes. The one thing it offers that Coming Apart resisted is humor. It's subtle, but it's there. The faux-bluesy harmonica playing on the fifteen-minute closer "Nude Economics" is one such example. Based on the quality of Gordon's last two collaborations, I can't wait to hear what she does next.
Brian Flota is a Librarian who lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia. He co-edited The Politics of Post-9/11 Music with Joseph P. Fisher in 2011 (Ashgate). He also contributes reviews to Library Journal and The Hairsplitter. When he was a three-year-old, his favorite song was “Copacabana (At the Copa)” by Barry Manilow.