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Until this Thursday’s Brooklyn date, I am unable to speak from experience, but Body/Head is assuredly one of those bands best experienced live. This judgment can reasonably be gleaned from their first two full-lengths, 2013’s Coming Apart and 2016’s No Waves. The former was exciting based on prospect alone, as it granted us the first look at Kim Gordon’s creative output following the demise of Sonic Youth. It’s a dark, dank tone poem that runs past an hour; an exercise in dual guitar textures with the band’s other half Bill Nace. Although a promising initial offering, it does struggle with sustaining its momentum, but their combined strength sees its full potential on the latter: a live performance captured raw with no post-production tidying up; their approach fittingly amorphous and osmotic, doing away with any of the previous record’s sterility. The Switch, their second studio album, seeks to better represent the group’s live sound.
What was the outcome of Sonic Youth’s last will and testament? Regarding the 75% accountable for melody, Thurston Moore continued making his “SY Lite” tunes, teetering toward either a sophisticated or carefree bent; Lee Ranaldo pivoted toward dad rock with a vengeance, along with whatever quality they possessed as a whole that gave Neil Young such a yen; and Gordon, rather than reunite with on/off project Free Kitten, went minimal and gargantuan at the same time, crafting noise sonnets with Nace as if all she ever cared to do in the first place was to solve for X via “I Love Her All the Time”.
The opening whammy bar wailing on “Last Time” is a disclaimer, putting forth that their sonic boundaries have been blown back since the last rodeo. The opener goes through more motions in eight minutes than Coming Apart saw in its entirety. This is a more plotted out and in sync Body/Head, but still not an enforced one. Whereas the debut was quite believably the work of two guitarists, The Switch is an impressively emboldened take on the formula, featuring the duo with enhanced sonic palettes, grander agendas, and simply more tools in the kit.
The guitar, when wielded in this particular manner, is a far more easily manipulated instrument than any bass or rhythm guitar Gordon had defaulted to in the past. Given their experimental, deconstructive affect, her natural confidence breathes life directly into the workings of the distorted notes and vice versa, resulting in the first instance of her strings speaking louder than her actual voice. Poetry takes a backseat here as together they craft a surreal, blaring, and at times industrial sojourn, evoking imagery of scorched earth and eerily ambiguous afterlife. Gordon’s vocals are often coolly lost to a severe tremolo effect, reverberating her messages out of the scope of clarity like a mouth half-submerged in water.
Half a decade ago, Gordon and Nace tested the limits of rock music down to its pure diluted ingredients (as a graduate of the No Wave scene is wont to do), even subverting traditional American standards in the process. This formal introduction meandered, as was intended and expected, but it didn’t cover too much ground. The Switch takes us on a definitively fruitful journey and even makes a case for Body/Head’s propensity to compellingly score a film—and why not, in a year already full of brooding scores from Erik Friedlander, Lustmord, and Colin Stetson? It’s an album of modes, evolving from one awesome function to another; a volatile, down-tuned drone metal gesture here and a fritzed out tape machine looped sequence there, replete with crackling SOSes from Gordon, via the digital beyond.
You may purchase the record here.
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