The Lowdown: It seems incredible to type this sentence in 2019 and have it be true, but here goes: No Home Record is the debut solo record from Kim Gordon, the iconic artist and musician who spent 30 years perched at the apex of cool as a member of Sonic Youth. In the eight years since Thurston Moore’s infidelity ended both their marriage and Sonic Youth’s time as a band, Gordon’s stayed busy, striking up collaborations with guitarists Bill Nace (as Body/Head) and Alex Knost (as Glitterbust), staging gallery shows in New York and London, and publishing a bestselling memoir (2015’s Girl in the Band). She also returned to her hometown of Los Angeles after more than half a lifetime out east. That move and its adjustments are top of mind throughout No Home Record, a defiant collection of music perfectly attuned to the ambient anger of the moment.
The Good: Attentive Gordon fans got a preview of No Home Record back in 2016, with the release of her debut solo single, “Murdered Out”. Made in collaboration with producer Justin Raisen, that track (which appears here again) paired Gordon’s growling, smoky come-ons with a clattering, busted-socket beat that she accurately described in a recent Vogue interview as “trashy.” Given room to roam across an entire record, Raisen draws from the same playbook of compressed chaos that he used for Yves Tumor’s 2018 breakout, Safe in the Hands of Love, to expand and experiment with the familiar snarl of distorted guitars that Sonic Youth made famous. Sometimes, that means tossing an unexpected instrument into the mix; opener “Sketch Artist” whirrs to life with the drone of an oboe while “Paprika Pony” heightens its caustic industrial sparseness with plinks from a marimba. Other times, results come from sly studio instincts; just when the tinny percussion that propels “Cookie Butter” has listeners lulled into a harsh sense of security, Raisen raises the volume ever so slightly, puncturing the trance and making you realize you’ve been clenching your jaw this whole time anyway.
Above this maelstrom, Gordon presides. Fully embracing her role as a no-wave Joan Didion, Gordon spends the most fruitful parts of No Home Record dissecting American illusions; her deft attacks hit targets from the emptiness of aspirational luxuries (“Air BnB”) to gentrification (“Don’t Play It”) with artful barbs that manage to provide critique without lapsing into fuddy-duddy lecturing. There’s real economy in these lines, with “Don’t Play It” getting the best of the bunch; here Gordon raves like an aging prophet sick of spelling things out, offering criticism (“Used to have a gallery/ Now it’s just a floral shop”) and humor (“Where are my cigarettes?/ Those aren’t my brand!”) from breath to breath. That rage gives way to vulnerability on the record’s final two tracks, which find Gordon wrestling with the way her life has changed over the last few years. Although “Earthquake” gets the best line (“I got sand in my heart for you”), “Get Yr Life Back” is the better song; opening with a reverberating klaxon, the closer embraces a kind of recovery that’s less about holding on to what you still have and more about razing what’s left and staying away from the ashes.
The Bad: Though she gets rightful praise for her concision, Gordon’s lyrics on No Home Record occasionally cross the border from the poetic and into the oblique; while saving the confessionalism for the page made for a compelling memoir, here it results in songs that are difficult to invest in on a deeper level. Likewise, while Raisen is apt at stitching together compelling songs from within the vortex, his occasional over-reliance on those tricks results in a record that sometimes suffers from bouts of sonic sameness. No Home Record is an undeniably thrilling listen on the first few spins; whether it comes with enough lyrical and musical depth to turn those thrills into devotion remains to be seen.
The Verdict: As an unlikely solo debut nearly 40 years into a groundbreaking career, No Home Record arrives with absolutely zero stakes in tow; at this point, Kim Gordon could release an album of herself reading Grubhub menus and still make it sound cool. Despite having nothing left to prove, she’s gone ahead and topped herself anyway. With enough overwhelming guitars to satisfy anyone itching for Goo Pt. 2, a willingness to borrow dread from latter-day hip-hop and experimental influences, and lyrics pointed squarely at our own absurdities, No Home Record roils with just the kind of catharsis we need in Bad Timeline America. Play it loud, play it often, play it again.
Essential Tracks: “Air BnB”, “Don’t Play It”, and “Get Yr Life Back”