A Disorienting, Noise-Rock Collage
Sonic Youth captured audiences throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s with their unique brand of rock music. Guitarists Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon employed inventive alternate tunings and prepared instruments to fashion a highly abrasive, yet deeply absorbing, sound. Their music often relied on ruggedly polished power chord riffs reminiscent of the distortion of grunge and punk rock music. However, Sonic Youth would regularly layer these more conventional riffs with blaring walls of sound to achieve their own distinctive sonic trademark; one focused primarily on dense guitar-driven soundscapes.
Following the group’s dissolution in 2011, its members have been able to carve out their own respective niches whilst pursuing solo projects. In the case of bassist Kim Gordon, she has instilled her newest project, Glitterbust, with some of the more experimental qualities of her former band. Following a string of solo albums throughout the ‘90s, and a collaborative work with Bill Nace in 2013, Gordon has proved herself to be an artistic force more than capable of escaping the formidable shadow cast by Sonic Youth.
Glitterbust adds to Gordon’s impressive legacy. It takes the same highly minimalist, free-form approach that characterized Gordon’s previous collaboration – Body/Head – and frames it within a more atmospheric setting. The five-song album brazenly rejects melodic and rhythmic formalities in favor of intricately layered guitar soundscapes. Gordon and Tomorrow Tulips’ Alex Knost trade distorted guitar figures in order to paint a collage of ‘noise rock’ textures – their respective parts crudely distributed towards the left and right fields of the acoustic spectrum, often creating a sense of stereo imbalance. “Repetitive Differ” sees their guitars independently working to capture this jarring quality through its extensive use of backmasking and panned guitar feedback. And throughout the entirety of the 51-minute album, Gordon and Knost employ similarly experimental mixing and performative methods to create a truly mystifying auditory experience.
The duo’s refusal to extend a melody or neatly resolve a harmonic progression, as evinced by the mind-numbingly static guitar drones that comprise the twelve minutes of “Erotic Resume,” merely heightens this disorientation. Much like how Arnold Schoenberg and other early 20th century modernist composers experimented with tonality, Glitterbust cleverly plays with guitar textures, panning effects and amorphous song structures to create a constant state of unease and disorientation. Its songs seemingly drone on into perpetuity, as blaring guitars ring past each eardrum, drifting the listener into a state of spellbinding hypnosis.
This constant anticipation is part of what makes Glitterbust so intriguing. Gordon exaggerates the hypnotic sonic formats and textures utilized by Sonic Youth to create her own idiosyncratic brand of guitar-driven noise-rock. While her approach will undoubtedly be impenetrable to many listeners who yearn for clarity and resolution, lovers of both the avant-garde and noise-rock will surely embrace Glitterbust’s immaculately dense soundscapes. And for avid Sonic Youth fans, “The Highline” offers a more conventional (albeit 9-minute) track featuring Gordon’s wistfully delicate vocals, paired with a highly repetitive, strangely engrossing guitar riff that evokes the mesmerizing pre-chorus of “Teenage Riot.” Despite its peculiarities, Glitterbust is nothing if not intriguing. It serves as a reminder that Kim Gordon’s creative potential is nowhere near exhausted.