Scott Creney

Body/Head – Coming Apart (Matador)

Body/Head – Coming Apart (Matador)
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By Scott Creney

This is too important to overlook. I don’t care what label it’s on.

Because I’m afraid for this record, afraid it’s going to be misunderstood, afraid it’s going to be dismissed, afraid it might be loathed. I write this as someone who prefers Yoko Ono’s catalog to The Beatles’, to say nothing of her more famous (but talented in his own right — that primal scream album, oh my god) husband. And as I listen to Coming Apart, I keep coming back to Ono’s Feeling The Space, the album she made during her separation from Lennon, the album where she exerted the most control, the album where she was at her angriest and most brutal.

It’s also the lowest rated album in her allmusic discography.

And as with Ono’s work, it may be impossible to separate the music from the life of the person who wrote it.

I need to get this out of the way before I go any further. I think Coming Apart is stunning. I own well over a dozen Sonic Youth albums and this is as good as anything that band ever did. And on a strictly emotional level, it touches places in me that they never quite got to. ‘Last Mistress’ would be harrowing even if you knew nothing of the person who sang it. The fact that I have read about her marriage, its recent dissolution, makes the song unexpected on so many levels. It stops me dead in my tracks.

It means something, though I have no way of knowing what, that a band like Sonic Youth, who made music which, for all its glories, had a certain impersonal coldness in its lyrics, would see its three main members make solo albums that seem to qualify, for lack of a better term, as confessional.

But that’s something for future SY biographers to mull over.

It also has the best and bleakest Nina Simone cover you’ll ever hear. Which in itself is a cover from the musical Hair. This means that the Lemonheads now have the third best cover in Hairstory (Fifth Dimension’s second). It has a version of ‘Black Is The Color’ which resembles the original the way that later versions of Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things’ resembled that song’s antecedent.

And then there’s the noise. When the guitars scrape, when they gurgle and pulse and squeal and revolt back against the song in noise, it’s as exhilarating, as jarring, as downright ugly fun, as anything that band ever did.

Musically, lyrically, sonically, it’s the most interesting thing anyone associated with that band has done in decades. It’s raw, it’s open-veined, it’s gasping, it’s fighting. But even beyond the emotion, you can hear an intelligence choosing what to leave in, how far is far enough, and how far is overplaying one’s hand. What do I want to say and how do I want to say it.

It’s a double LP. It’s almost unimaginably, unfathomably, unexpectedly great. It’s so good I feel strange writing about it, like I’m violating someone’s privacy. I’m reluctant to dive too far into the lyrics — Gordon’s always been fascinated by how females are depicted/transformed by society, how they see and how they are seen — and it feels like an oversimplification to turn it into a soap opera. Even if most of the songs lend themselves to that interpretation, the writing’s strong enough for it to work on other, more universal, levels. And they deserve that freedom. Anyone who calls it Kim Gordon’s breakup album is doing the songs, and themselves, a huge disservice. There was a bit in that Elle profile where she railed against the normality of the whole thing, the stupid cliché of “husband has midlife crisis and runs off with younger woman”, and it’s a testament to Ms. Gordon’s ability/power/imagination as an artist that she’s been able to take something banal and turn it into art that is powerful enough to transcend whatever personal circumstances may or may not have inspired it.

There is a person in this world who I love as much as you can love another person. But life being what it is, that person will leave me one day, either through the door or through the earth. And when that day comes I have always imagined listening to Season Of Glass to help deal with their loss. I can add Coming Apart to that list. It articulates the feeling of inescapable grief, in what it says and what it keeps silent, as well as any album I’ve ever heard in my long yearning life. And I’m grateful it exists in this world for the people who need it.

Because make no mistake, one day you are going to need it.

4 Responses to Body/Head – Coming Apart (Matador)

  1. Everett True September 14, 2013 at 8:42 am

    The dotards at Pitchfork have given it a sitting-on-the-fence 7.7 in a curiously dispassionate, uninvolved review even for them. Why even fucking write about music if you feel so emotionally detached from it? Pitchfork pay – right? You’d think the editors would be able to find the occasional decent writer aside from Laura Barton.

  2. austin silver September 16, 2013 at 8:40 am

    best album ever ever oh god it is

  3. Everett True September 16, 2013 at 9:10 am

    from Facebook

    Brett Renaud
    Nace needs more credit on this album. The focus is all on Kim. Must be because she’s female. People only care about female musicians.

    Tom Warburton
    This review says everything I felt about this album whilst listening to it, but was too stunned to say. Good on ya!

    Scott Creney
    Brett’s right. About the Nace part, at least. Should have given credit where it was due and worked him into the part about how much I liked the noise.

    Brett Renaud
    What most people don’t know is that since 2005 at least, Nace regularly performed in a duo with Thurston Moore called Northampton Wools. It was sheet atonal guitar noise. They didn’t release many recordings, just a few cassettes I think. Body/Head is a bit more musical, for lack of better word. Nace personally gave me the first Body/Head cassette in 2011 or so. Nace is a serious guitar noise virtuoso. I don’t think he’s fully appreciated as much as he should be, and now he’s overshadowed by Kim. But I guess it’s fitting since she’s pretty freakin awesome.

    Brett Renaud
    Bill Nace’s work in bands like X04 and Vampire Belt is great. I know those bands aren’t for everyone. Obviously a lot of people are going to check out Body/Head simply because Kim Gordon is in it, but for people who are into improvised guitar torture, Nace is grand.

    Everett True
    I’ll add these comments to Scott’s post, so as to clue folk in.

    Jake Cleland
    This is a fantastic review.

    Scott Creney
    Thanks, Brett. And as a fan of improvised guitar torture, I’m going to go check that stuff out tomorrow.

    Brett Renaud
    scott, nace is just one of many amazing musicians in western massachusetts. the music scene here is so unique compared to the rest of the country. it’s a wonderful place. i’m not even particularly into the body/head record because i’ve seen bill and kim do better stuff live in a basement with ten people watching, and that to me is what the music experience is about, but i do appreciate that not everyone is neighbors with rockstars.

    Scott Creney
    Quite a few of my fellow Athens, Ga residents just died a little inside when you wrote that last sentence, but it reminds me of a funny story. I went to school at Emerson in Boston and was taking a poetry class with Bill Knott in 2001. During an SY show that year Thurston namechecked Bill from the stage. When I mentioned it the next day in class, he stared at the table for a long time then said, ‘ALL the rockstars know who I am.’ Then a minute later he ammended himself, ‘Well who cares. No one’s really ever heard of either of us.’

    Brett Renaud
    pretty sure i was at that show! if it was in april of 2001, Paul Flaherty & Chris Corsano duo opened up. Those two are also frequent collaborators with Nace, and are AMAZING.

    Scott Creney
    That’s the one. Great show.

  4. Erika Elizabeth September 16, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Body/Head playing out here in Portland next week for $20 is seriously making me realize exactly how spoiled I was to be able to see so many of those “Bill & Kim in a basement” shows back in Northampton.

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