I remember being pretty floored by Coming Apart, the first record by the Kim Gordon/Bill Nace avante noise band Body/Head. In fact, I can remember thinking how on the edge that album was. Piercing, jagged guitar squalls mixed with Kim Gordon’s improvised vocal belting made for a compelling listen back in 2013. The record felt downright revelatory in comparison to what her ex-husband Thurston Moore was doing in Chelsea Light Moving that same year.
Looking back, I think it was a combination of the free-form and improvisational vibe of that album and the fact that Gordon seemed to have moved on from Moore’s infidelities and create beautifully antagonistic art that made me love that album so much. I don’t often revisit Coming Apart, but feel it’s an important LP to have in the collection. Their new live record No Waves was recorded at the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee and contains three tracks that have been previously released, but are being used only as a rough outline for Gordon and Nace’s free form noise making. There’s nothing new here, but for the adventurous souls there’s something to get lost in.
Body/Head feels less like a musical group and more like performance art. There’s definitely echoes of Gordon’s previous band Sonic Youth, but she’s pulling more from the earlier days of that band when it was more noise and confrontation than actual songs. It seems for live presentation the band can probably travel in nothing more than a hatchback as all is needed for their brand of art exhibition is two amps, two guitars, and a vocal mic. The rest is up to attitude and wherever the emotions take them.
On No Waves the duo play to an entranced crowd as you can hear but one “woo!” before they jump into “Sugar Water”. Gordon and Nace’s guitars intermingle and weave into each other like vines on a cobblestone wall. Gordon’s pained blues howls join the noise before things quiet down and give her the space to take front and center. Her voice is reminiscent of the late and great Alan Vega. It’s an aloofness that has a tendency to fall into insanity(“Frankie Teardrop” comes to mind.) The song feels like it could explode into a cacophony of noise at any moment and distorted guitar at times takes over but never totally takes over. “The Show Is Over” is more noise vs space as competing single coil growls escalate into a sonic argument with the universe. It’s compelling but also anxiety-inducing. Kim Gordon seems to allow the music to take her vocally to other spatial realms. They say in space nobody can hear you scream, but I think they might be able to hear Kim Gordon.
The album finishes up with the 23 minute mash up of Coming Apart tracks “Abtract” and “Actress”. “Abstract/Actress” is a musical painting with circuitry, magnets, and string as the color palate and amplifiers as the canvas. Kim Gordon and Bill Nace contort guitars and feedback into this black hole of noise and negative space that you either will find compelling or will want to run as far away from it as possible.
No Waves didn’t grab me like Coming Apart did, but I don’t think it was supposed to. It’s merely a musical document that shows as a live entity Body/Head can be as visceral in front of your face as they can in your head through headphones. I still find this band revelatory, and I’d love to see where they could take it in the studio once more.