The 2011 split of Sonic Youth’s two main songwriters Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon divided the band’s impulses into two divergent solo careers: Moore into chiming, jammy, stoned-and-satiated indie rock; Gordon into a rubbed-raw, rather-ripping noise duo with experimental guitarist Bill Nace. For fans of SY’s transgressive Eighties downtown bluster, Body/Head’s 2013 debut Coming Apart was a welcome wade back into the muck, 68 minutes of noisy guitar improv that convulsed like punk and conversated like jazz while Gordon spit the blues. With no drummer and two songs that launched past the 10-minute mark, it was a roiling din that suggested the Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat if it was recorded without Lou Reed and Maureen Tucker.
Follow-up The Switch digs past the craggy noise-rock crust into the subterranean magma. Many survivors of the American noise scene that Sonic Youth championed in the Aughts – Wolf Eyes, Prurient, Hair Police, Kevin Drumm – have moved past sweat-and-spittle freakouts into making more desolate, ambient, post-apocalyptic landscapes. Body/Head masterfully follow suit, leaning more on drones that thumb-wrestle at warring frequencies and passages of unnerving rumble. With its whammy bar yowl and nearly two minutes of squealing-but-fragile feedback, opener “Last Time” sounds like Ry Cooder scoring a zombie film. Parts of “You Don’t Need” and “Reverse Hard” sound like scummy tape loops. The crumbly “In the Dark Room” occasionally sounds like the 2000 installation where Christian Marclay recorded an electric guitar being dragged by a pick-up truck. The more visceral appeal of Coming Apart – most notably Gordon’s vocals – is lost somewhat in this pivot to patient squall and ugly voids (the 10-minute “Change My Brain” sounds like she’s crooning to an industrial fan), but the duo are still exceptional at manipulating scuzz.