The main similarity between Yoko Ono and Sonic Youth is that while they’re both ultimately pop artists, they’re more well-known for their avant-garde work. That doesn’t mean, say, “Fly” or “Improvisation Ajoutée” are famous, just that people know they make horrible noises, which scare them away from sometimes even learning that they make normal ones too. Yoko Ono’s a lifelong pariah to those ultimate canonists, Beatles crazies, and still-technically-married Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore along with the absent Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley comprised the classic lineup of Sonic Youth, this reviewer’s favorite band, which at the moment is either gone or missing. Thus I’m supposed to lap this up like Ranaldo’s woodsy roots-rock album earlier this year. I cherish Sonic Youth’s warmly spoken and layered Beats tribute NYC Ghosts & Flowers. YOKOKIMTHURSTON is unfortunately closer to Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu.
The shortest song here is seven minutes, the most demanding one twice that. The opening “I Missed You, Listening” consists mostly of Ono moaning, mimicking bird calls and doing vocal warmups. It’s like her own take on Kim Gordon’s “Contre Le Sexisme” intro to A Thousand Leaves without the words or bracing textures. The next track, “Running the Risk” is somewhat of a triangular Mad Libs game that goes in order Yoko, Kim, Thurston (just like the title!) as they intone phrases like “social network” and “let it snow?” for two minutes (the best moment on the entire record is Thurston Moore’s rendition of “sticky…floors”). Then they mess with guitars using slides and harmonics and who knows what else. It’s like a mean practical joke on the poetry-laden NYC Ghosts.
That’s the real crime of this record: it doesn’t exist harmlessly. It plays into all the worst assumptions of these artists without offering much reward for the endurance test. During Sonic Youth’s existence, their odd little SYR EPs were blessing, a clever reminder that you can delve into their mess if you must but know they’re saving their good stuff for the real albums. Since there may never again be another Sonic Youth album, this one-off doesn’t feel like pretension containment. It feels like a smug menace. Only the ballad-like “Mirror Mirror,” on which a dolphin-like Ono refers to herself in the third person, retains an aura of sweetness or musicality. If YOKOKIMTHURSTON only exists to reassure people that Moore and Gordon can be in the same room, it’s more than done its job. Unfortunately the music itself (or lack thereof) is one of the biggest ripoffs any of the involved parties have yet released. Those looking for vaguely gothic noise-and-nuance improv should get their full fix from the new Swans double.