You know this sadly familiar scenario: Band with three distinctive singers and writers — and a steady, dependable drummer who seems to get along with them all — collapses, and what follows are individual projects with plenty of sterling moments instead of a group record that will never be. The Beatles? Sure, but the same now goes for Sonic Youth. In the aftermath of the group’s collapse following Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s startling breakup, we’ve had to make do with solo albums that, at least, played up their individual strengths. Moore’s Rock N Roll Consciousness recalled languid late-period Sonics, while guitarist Lee Ranaldo’s Between the Times and the Tides was the late-blooming singer-songwriter record he’d long had in him.
Gordon’s initial project — Body/Head, the sound-collage semi-band she formed with guitarist Bill Nace — was her equivalent to the early John-and-Yoko experimental records. But on No Home Record, she hits the refresh button, and not merely in the sense that it’s the first record she’s released under her own name. Whereas Body/Head relied on the feedback and drones familiar to anyone who’d been immersed in her longtime, now defunct band, No Home Record finds Gordon stepping out in search of life after Sonic Youth, musically and perhaps lyrically, and the ride can be pretty mesmerizing.
That new look starts immediately: “Sketch Artist” opens the record with electronics that make like a forlorn string quartet, leading into burring, staccato thumps. The lyrics continue Gordon’s collage-art approach to songwriting — seemingly random phrases thrown together, like “And the wind chimes strikes and your dead stare/Like an old man in the day” — but the union of her chilly-as-ever whisper and such a frigid, brittle soundscape is gripping; it’s as if she’s traversing a post-apocalyptic terrain and the ground is still shifting beneath her.
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Working with several collaborators – notably L.A. producer-musician Justin Raisen, who’s honed his skills with Angel Olsen, Sky Ferreira, and Charli XCX — Gordon encases her voice in similar muted electronica bubbles, each a little different and quirkier than the one before. The text-alert-like bubble that pops up throughout the electro-tango “Paprika Pony” is a creepy hook of its own; “Don’t Play It” sounds as if Gordon were shouting in a below-ground dance club after everyone is too drained and wasted to leave.
Gordon’s ever elliptical approach to lyric writing guarantees that the album isn’t nearly as candid as her Girl in a Band memoir. The shuddery, eerily still “Earthquake” could be interpreted as an especially dismissive breakup song: “I got sand in my heart, for you/You want me to see you/Are you twelve?” But again, what pulls you in is the arrangement — a ravaged-beauty drone that feels like Gordon’s long-overdue answer record to the Velvets’ “Heroin.”
No Home Record doesn’t completely leave Gordon’s past in the dust. Here and there, she conjures her best-known band, albeit from different eras. “Hungry Baby” has the scuzzed-out dankness and guitar-scrape clatter of the Confusion Is Sex period, her voice lurching into a near-scream amidst scattershot images (“Touch yr nipple/pretend yr mine”), and the roaring “Air BnB,” a deadpan list of objects found in such temp rentals, could easily be a lost Dirty or Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star leftover. (The seething quality she also brought to “Swimsuit Issue” and other Sonic assaults returns here, too.) And in “Murdered Out,” which came out earlier as a single, she stretches out the title phrase into multiple, blood-curdling syllables, just as she would’ve on a Nineties Lollapalooza stage.
Is she happier, more content, in her new life? It’s hard to say, and she doesn’t give an inch. But by the end of the record, on “Get Yr Life Back,” Gordon lets it all hang out as much as she can — making out with an unnamed someone and referencing Fleetwood Mac. Some degree of love is all around, and she’s going to make it after all.