OK, first things first: As you may or may not know, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, the peas and carrots of Sonic Youth, parted ways after 27 years of marriage in late 2011. This, of course, cast doubt on their band’s future and provoked a worldwide chain of hand-over-mouth whispers. A spate of quiet descended for some time. Then, Thurston rolled out of bed one morning—which may or may not have been a “Chelsea Morning,” according to Joni Mitchell—and, despite having lost his indie queen in Kim, felt the sudden need to move on and get his Chelsea Light Moving. The results? A sturdy, straight-ahead song set with nary a word of his relatively recent turn for singledom. Despite it being an albino, pink-thong-wearing elephant in a 12′ x 12′ room.
Look, the fundamentals are here: Rocky, up-and-down dynamics, plays on chunky vs. sleepy, “cool guy” literary name drops—the whole nine. Everything fits into place. Rah-rah, Thurston. But at the same time, as you groove and grimace with the album’s art school musings, you can’t help but think of Kim. And how the yin is gone. Yeah, it’s just yang now. Yang as far as the eye can see. And by no means is that bad, really. It’s just… not yin and yang.
“Alighted” serves well in characterizing much of the music. Its askew, plinky guitar line, aided by co-axeman Keith Wood of Hush Arbors, yields to a battering-ram chug accented by de-tuned bends. Eventually, the riff skinnies to a nakeder tone, still bare-backing its uneasy rhythm, over which Thurston breaks his silence at the song’s three-minute mark: “I come / To get alighted / I come / To get ignited.” After a little more lazy-hazy crooning, someone hits the Big Red Button, and there goes the neighborhood. A booming, fiery fuzz incinerates any remaining vestiges of musicality—then, nearly a minute later, the song is resumed as if nothing happened. Someone check the Geiger counter.
Outside the creaking, hacksaw guitars destroying the “Empires of Time,” or even the mellow jumble of opener “heavenmetal,” nothing quite tops “Burroughs”—as in William S. Burroughs—where Thurston gets testy with Mr. Naked Lunch himself, the dirty daddy of the Beats. “Hey, Billy, what’s your cure for pain?” says Thurston. Heroin, probably. Why’re you asking him that? Then, Thurston completes his thought: “Oh, Billy, the sweetest drug is free”—punctuated by a high, fluttering guitar. “Will you, Billy, shoot it into me?” Three minutes in, the song’s sputtering and antsy guitars—apparently shot full of Burroughs’ best stuff—have a way of chopping in tandem like a demonized Ron Popeil appliance. Good junk, for sure.
Still, between the frenzied surfer punk of “Lip” and the coffee-house hardcore of “Mohawk”—which, in a surreal spoken-word about the life and death of rock ’n’ roll, aureolates front-Germ Darby Crash—even still, that nagging thought remains: What the hell’s Kim up to?