The breakup of Sonic Youth was never meant to happen. In every fan’s mind the band would keep growing older but continue to play until they just — poof! — turned to ash onstage in 2041 after 60 years together. It sure seemed like that would happen.
After 30 years though the band unofficially called it a day in October 2011. The royal couple of indie rock Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore announced they were separating after 27 years of marriage. And that was that. There was no way the band could withstand such a blow.
Sonic Youth are probably the most influential indie band of the last quarter-century which is funny because for 24 of those 25 years they were signed to a major. It seems like they’re still with us thanks to the constant flood of new music each member has produced since disbanding. Thurston Moore released a solo album just before and formed a new band Chelsea Light Moving which released their debut earlier this year. Lee Ranaldo also released a solo album last year. Steve Shelley has drummed on numerous recordings. And now we have Kim Gordon’s first post-SY work.
Body/Head is comprised of Kim and Bill Nace a Boston musician who gets around. After playing together for a few years the music evolved into the open concept Body/Head and they released a scarce record called Glare Luring Yo with the Dead C’s Mike Morley earlier this year. Coming Apart is their first proper release and unlike Lee’s and Thurston’s straighter rock-structured albums this is an improvisational work more aligned with SY Records than Geffen.
If only for the revelation that Thurston cheated on Kim I want to champion Coming Apart and say she has come out on top with the best SY member album since their 2009 swan song The Eternal . But Kim Gordon is hardly the artist to reward petty sympathy to. She’s a fighter and Coming Apart allows for some emotional purging to be done.
You could read between the lines and try to interpret this as a break-up record but you’d do your head in. Kim herself has admitted it’s “kind of intense to listen to in one sitting” and she’s dead right. “Black” and “Frontal” close the album as a combined half-hour of intangible droning. You’ll squirm trying to withstand all 30 minutes.
The album isn’t without its moments: “Last Mistress” has the outline and creaking guitars of a Sonic Youth number along with some coherence and the repetition of “Aint” permits Kim to acknowledge that she’s got among many things her “freedom.”
It’s great to see Kim return but Coming Apart isn’t what any of us truly want. It’s a mess but at least it’s more engaging than Chelsea Light Moving or Between the Times & the Tides . We really just want the four people in Sonic Youth to somehow unite again and reach that point of incineration on their 60th anniversary. We want another album with four songs by Kim six by Thurston and two by Lee as usual. Until then why bother settling for this?
Also how in the hell is Kim Gordon 60 years old?