Back in college, I had a friend who insisted that anyone could be Sonic Youth — at the very least in their SYR recordings. For those not in the know, the legendary guitar rock outfit released a handful of records under their own label; typically esoteric, experimental, noisy affairs, these are deep cuts of their already deep catalog. “Just lean some guitars against amps and call it a day,” he’d say, ignoring my adamant denials. Unfortunately, after the band’s dissolution a few years ago, we’ve had to worry that his theory might be tested. Would the members of Sonic Youth try to find out whether they could be Sonic Youth on their own?
Luckily, the members’ solo albums and new projects have largely carved out their own niches, or better yet, burrowed further into their already formed niches. (They were all plenty busy with side projects back in the day, anyway.) But hearing echoes and wrinkles of the past is the unfortunate reality of having to listen to new projects from the members of a disbanded, iconic outfit. Such is certainly the case with Kim Gordon’s new band, Glitterbust.
Comprising Gordon and Tomorrows Tulips’ Alex Knost, Glitterbust works similarly to Gordon’s other recent project, the slow-burning Body/Head. Though where that band’s Coming Apart felt like minimalist cinema, Glitterbust feels more messily literary, particularly poetic. The duo smear guitar noise, feedback, and the occasional drum around like a tone poem, building and releasing in something that resembles language yet doesn’t necessarily carry a structure. Their lyrics, then, double down on this, building scenes out of half-detailed sentences and imagistic lines. We’re not quite talking the poetic, controlled nonsense of Tender Buttons, but some of that cubist shape-rendering is there. Beat poetry feels like a pertinent connection, too — Knost monotones about a cum-stained journal on one track, after all.
Sonic Youth’s music rode the incredibly thin high wire of chaos and order. For Body/Head, Gordon and collaborator Bill Nace split their guitar tracks, one panned to each side. At key moments on Glitterbust, Gordon and Knost fuse those two elements. Take out one earphone, and you’ve got a (relatively thin) garage rock twinkler; take out the other, and you’re left with a wash of noise. Put the two together and you’ll get some visceral highs, but you’ll also occasionally lose both halves.
After a sweetly airy, yet uneventful opener in “Soft Landing”, Glitterbust crack into their musical DNA on “Repetitive Differ”. For two or so minutes, Gordon and Knost build a fire out of crackling feedback and a simple, needling guitar riff. “Where repetitive nature reigns supreme/ Turn up the tremolo, wake up from such dreams,” Gordon drops. “Let the silver screech/ Oh yeah, babe, this could be the future,” Knost adds later, in an equally dead-eyed style.
Fans attuned to the Sonic Youth formulas might expect a big, meaty hook to break in after a few minutes of this lingering fog. But instead, the tone poem factory continues on, building different clouds of noise and spoken word. The 12-minute “Erotic Resume” pairs Knost’s recitations (“Fall in love with lust/ Tell her she’s a dream”) with Gordon’s full-moon moans, the latter fitting alongside the mystic guitar noise spirals much like Bethany Cosentino’s pre-Best Coast noise project, Pocahaunted.
The true highlight here is “The Highline”. Over nine heavy-droning minutes, Glitterbust deliver a united front and drill deeper into your school. It’s not that the song is darker or more aggressive than the rest — quite the contrary, at times — but rather that it’s the point at which Gordon and Knost seem most connected, their guitars pinging against each other and interacting, rather than creaking and groaning in separate ears. Plus, their tight harmonies about shadows and forgetting hang like a low, gray specter haunting the back of your mind.
With each successive release, Kim Gordon distances herself from the trap of being compared to Sonic Youth, without ever needing to actively counteract the massive influence and shadow the band casts. She’s never denied the tools offered by that experience or the influence decades of experimenting had. Glitterbust is its own entity, just the way Body/Head was. Though it too often lingers when a punch is needed, Glitterbust carries plenty of weight. Nobody else could be Glitterbust, either.
Essential Tracks: “The Highline”, “Repetitive Differ”