The line between art and artifice is one that Kim Gordon has explored throughout her four-decade career, first as cofounder of Sonic Youth and more recently as a visual artist, memoirist, fashion designer, actress, and one-half of the experimental duo Body/Head. When we’re perusing a corporately designed bauble or experience, are we genuinely imagining the special memories we’ll be making, or simply buying into a self-consciously hip aesthetic and the impossible promise of a fresh start?
This dilemma is at the heart of “No Home Record,” which is, surprisingly, Gordon’s first solo album to date. While it contains plenty of the confrontational skronk that’s characterized much of her previous work, there’s a tunefulness here that comes in no small part from her chief collaborator, Justin Raisen — an inspired choice who’s worked closely in the past with Angel Olsen, Charli XCX and Sky Ferreira, although this album sounds nothing like those artists.
Gordon making a fresh start of her own, and the results are among the most compelling and satisfying songs she’s ever done. “No Home Record” is both a cumulative milestone in Gordon’s sizeable body of work as well as an album beholden to no prior context. It’s the Kim Gordon we’ve always known, but in a new setting.
To that end, “No Home Record” ranges from inflamed dissonance (“Murdered Out”) to tuneful yet abstract textures, never remaining in one place for long: Even the buoyancy of “Sketch Artist” is momentary, arriving on a brooding bass line and Gordon’s singular sung-spoken vocals.
By referencing Chantal Akerman’s 2015 documentary, “No Home Movie,” as its namesake, Gordon has invited that film’s context into her album’s subconscious. While Akerman’s work focuses on the last conversations the 65-year-old filmmaker had with her mother before the latter’s death, “No Home Record” finds Gordon sharing wisdom and laments of her own. The fascination with commodification is nothing new to her work, but what once may have seemed like a dark portent of the future has now, it seems, arrived.
“No Home Record” is full of these moments: dark jewels that juxtapose Gordon’s dry wit and unperturbed ambivalence with melodic yet avant-garde textures. And in an irony worthy of the album’s subject matter, it finds Gordon arriving as a solo artist, nearly 40 years after Sonic Youth released its first recordings, with one of the most challenging and intriguing albums of the year.