Body/Head, Kim Gordon’s guitar/vox project along with fellow Massachusetts guitarist Bill Nace, is now on their third album, The Switch, although it seems you’d never know it from the indie and the music world’s relative ignorance of them. The Switch issues to us in July 2018 from Matador Records.
As this is a guitar and vocals project (albeit one which fishes heavily for metal and machines in its music stream), the mind-bending opener “Last Time” does indeed complete its entire strain without the use of any percussion. Remember, Gordon is now apparently, as has been rumored and as is now all but confirmed in her partnership with Nace, based in Massachusetts, and not Sonic Youth’s original place of seedy 1980s New York City. The noise is there and as is the drone rock, but, frighteningly enough, she incurs the requisite amount of experimental zeal even way out in The Bay State as to set in motion a serious forest of sounds, rhythms, unorthodox structures, thematic juxtapositions and, as always, weird vocals, to really demarcate this project as her own brainchild.
Anybody who’s gotten through the entirety of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s f#a#oo might roughly have the attention span for this puppy. And with me, I know if I were still in college, subsisting on student loans, smoking pot constantly and just lacking the ambition to do anything whatsoever, and wanting to avoid all the meathead frat boy partiers who were everywhere around then, I’d probably want to listen to the whole thing. As it stands, I’d give Eastern Michigan’s Wolf Eyes (albums Burned Mind, Human Animal, Always Wrong) the definite nod over this in terms of drone rock, slotting this LP as notable nonetheless for a refreshing lack of percussion and OVERWHELMING noise and how “Last Time” seems to meditate upon itself like a charming atonal sloth casually seeking its next meal for the moderate feel that it might, like, ya know, die if it doesn’t get it.
The highlights are many on The Switch and unfortunately as are the trouble spots, the latter of which would be side b’s entirety by which time you’re so sick of this long-winded drone rock that it begins to feel like after-school detention directed by a teacher who’s too pu**y to yell. So anyway back to the opener “Last Time” which, as you might have guessed by now, is my favorite track on the album. Texture is key to the success here. One major dominating factor which takes over early enough is this looped slide guitar that goes up and down, evading melody the whole time, but creating in itself a sort of police siren effect, as if Gordon is still reliving painful memories of dwelling in the big city. At one point three different textures, all apparently rendered on guitar in some right, crowd the sound scape and we’re left to make sense of the clutter, but making sense of the mess is the whole fun of this album and will get producers and rock musicians alike strapped in and squaring away with this album’s layers. Apropos, as the looped siren goes up and down on that ever thinning and waning slide, these cricket-like blips dominate the mix’s lower ledgers, while in and out, a picked lead “weeps” over the mix frame like the voice of the weakest but most sensitive person onlooking unto all the madness unfolding before. Track two “You Don’t Need” opens up much more virilely noisy, obtaining the proudness “Last Time” had in its final minute of sharp, tonal and voluminous feedback and even generating some “metal” abrasiveness in the process. A little ways into “You Don’t Need” we actually get something vaguely resembling melody, like if Radiohead’s “Hunting Bears” were louder and inclusive of this copious, almost gaudy echo chamber applied to the highest tones at work here. On “You Don’t Need,” perhaps most importantly, Gordon’s vocals (again there’s no percussion as with before) seem at their most cathartic, addressing a “you” which is an apparent romantic interest and calling out for them, albeit in a sort of muffled or retarded voice which might call to mind Thom Yorke’s on the Amnesiac version of “Like Spinning Plates.” By the end of “You Don’t Need,” the tentative melody alluded to before marries, in like notes and rhythmic conjunction, the low-pitched crackles we heard on “Last Time,” likely the result of some undisclosed effects pedal like the Superfuzz, et. al. Grippingly, “You Don’t Need” closes with these semi-understandable vocals full of breath and an almost aerobic type of exhaustion (it’s easy to imagine sweat forming on Kim Gordon’s forehead here, which I don’t think any straight guy would complain about, necessarily).
“In the Dark Room” is overwhelming right from the start, stomping out of the gate with this recorder initiation that’s so clumsy in its onset that the switch comes off as percussive in itself, like the Fruit Kicks used on “Packt Like Sardines in a Crushed Tin Box.” What ensues then is the album’s proudest gaggle of feedback blips, showing their ambition to emulate Metal Machine Music with all of today’s pedal arsenal in tow. It all comes across as refreshingly playing homage to rhythm by very lack thereof and the middle section might be my favorite which sounds like, well, a monster, for lack of better imagination, but along more professional lines per the realm of music review, in my best estimation it’s the sound of feedback recorded and then played back, sort of like the snare technique the Fine Young Cannibals used on “She Drives Me Crazy,” just rendered by handling guitar feedback instead of direct snare sound. Here, then, a couple of octave-bound guitar tones reign over the proceedings in terms of ledger, while all the while that middle-level fuzz makes itself so bulbous that it’s almost like listening to Fender stacks. And wait… I think they just played a chord! Break out the brats and the PBR… we’re having a party. Well, that’s going a little far.