Kim Gordon doesn’t put much stock in the superlatives that have piled up around her over the years: pioneer, visionary, icon, legend, beacon. “Being referred to as an ‘icon,’ blah blah blah,” she said recently in the New York Times. “What does that even mean?”
Fair enough, but you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s earned it. As a visual artist, co-founder of Sonic Youth, fashion designer and occasional actor, Gordon has been a magnetic, and inscrutable, focal point of indie cool for nearly 40 years.
In all that time, her musical pursuits have come in group projects: 15 studio albums with Sonic Youth, three each as part of Free Kitten and Body/Head and one with Glitterbust, along with various EPs and singles scattered among them. Now, at the age of 66, Gordon steps out with No Home Record, a ferocious solo debut. It’s jagged, chaotic and mesmerizing in a way that pulls you inevitably into the thick of it, as if the songs were exerting their own inescapable gravity.
Though Gordon delivers these nine songs with supreme, unruffled confidence, there’s an unsettledness to them that reflects the sense of impermanence she has felt since moving back to Los Angeles, that most transient of cities. On “Air BnB,” the feeling manifests in the lyrics of her sardonic ode to the gig economy. She lists off amenities you might find in the web copy—something about towels, a flat-screen TV, a daybed—over gnashing guitars that sputter and grind before dropping into gear on the refrain as she wails, “Air BnB, gonna set me free.”
There’s a form of abnegation happening on “Murdered Out,” which Gordon first released as a single in 2016. She noticed that the low-rider car-culture trend of matte-black paint jobs was becoming more widely fashionable. The embrace of light-absorbing finishes struck her as “the supreme inward look, a culture collapsing in on itself, the outsider as an unwilling participant as the ‘it’ look,” she explained. Gordon pursues that idea in the lyrics, her voice alternating between breathless and abrupt on the verse and formidable full-throated keening on the refrain, accompanied by a massive, relentless beat from Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa and snakey blasts of guitar that writhe and churn. The overall effect is at once imposing and enthralling.
Gordon tinkers throughout with rhythms, intoning short, incisive lyrical phrases over a hypnotic mechanical beat on “Cookie Butter,” and letting the electro-clash drums on “Sketch Artist” drop out here and there for free-form interludes. Toward the end of No Home Record, she skips the beat altogether on “Earthquake,” singing in dusky tones over drifting guitars, crescendos of cymbal wash and some crumbly electronic noise in the background. It’s the most straightforward song on the album, but instead of ending there, Gordon takes one more foray into mercurial weirdness on album closer “Get Yr Life Back.” Her voice is often little more than a disquieting whisper surrounded by an eerie clanking rhythm and thickets of guitar feedback and brittle noise that blanket the song like some sinister fog.
The title, “Get Yr Life Back,” implies a prescriptive suggestion, but Gordon could be describing herself, too. After the end of Sonic Youth—and her marriage—in 2011, she has spent the intervening years taking her own life back, and shaping it into something different than it was before. No Home Record is the latest sign of how fully she has succeeded, which seems like the kind of thing that might get her mistaken for an icon.