Staying With The Trouble: The Collective by Kim Gordon

The hip hop-adjacent second solo album from the ex-Sonic Youth linchpin perfectly captures modernity’s constant buzz of anxiety, finds Arusa Qureshi

Credit: Danielle Neu

It’s hard not to feel as though chaos permeates every aspect of life at the moment. At work, I’m thinking about how utterly pointless it seems to be tapping away at my silly little emails, and at home, I can’t shake the nervous energy that comes with sitting around and doing nothing. In between, there’s a steady buzz that reverberates at a low level; a constant reminder of how fractured modern living is, of the unease that always sits just below the surface. It’s hard to articulate but it’s like the calm before the storm, as if you can always feel droplets of rain even when there’s no sign of it.

This may just be another convoluted way of saying that in our actions and inactions, it’s obvious we’ve made a mess of this world. But how do you condense that perpetual anxiety? How do you find some order in the chaos? She may not have the answer to these questions but in her new album The Collective, Kim Gordon has managed to soundtrack this feeling for me in a way that no one has of late, offering something that is playful, confusing and disruptive in equal measure.

If you’re expecting noise and provocation à la Sonic Youth and Gordon’s trademark deadpan drawl, you’d be right. But The Collective goes so far beyond this. In a way, it’s dumb to expect the Kim Gordon to simply give us more of the same. In the follow-up to her 2019 debut solo record, Gordon continues her partnership with producer Justin Raisen, known for his work with the likes of Charli XCX and Lil Yachty. And in this unexpected collaboration, we get a record that flirts with trap and alternative hip-hop, grinding, twisting and contorting Gordon’s wordplay and hooks to echo the brutality of our everyday.

“On this record, I wanted to express the absolute craziness I feel around me right now,” Gordon said in a statement about the album. “This is a moment when nobody really knows what truth is, when facts don’t necessarily sway people, when everyone has their own side, creating a general sense of paranoia.”

The Collective, through its abrasive soundscapes and fragmented messages of empowerment and realism, perfectly encapsulates that steady anxiety and sense of foreboding that lives in all of us. Gordon broaches capitalism, politics, misinformation and more but on her own, unconventional terms, echoing the need to embrace the unknown to find your own version of order. On the album’s opening track ‘Bye Bye’, she recites a catalogue of items against Raisen’s doom-laden trap beat. On paper, it shouldn’t work but the juxtaposition between the screeching synthesised sounds, ominous beat and Gordon’s detached vocals is oddly hypnotic.

There’s an otherworldliness that runs throughout the album, perhaps a purposeful contrast to its post-industrial rhythms in order to highlight an unrestrained inner-voice. ‘I Don’t Miss My Mind’, for example, sees Gordon switch from the repeated command of “fuck it up” against a shuddering drum-machine to “don’t fuck it up” by the song’s final moments. Elsewhere, on ‘Psychedelic Orgasm’, she depicts LA on a bad trip with the track’s surreal lyrics painting an apocalyptic vision of the world, pointing to our collective need to leave reality behind.

On ‘The Candy House’, inspired by Jennifer Egan’s novel of the same name, Gordon ponders technology and social media’s pull in the context of human interaction, while on ‘I’m A Man’, she takes on the persona of a toxic man, asking with sass: “So what if I like the big truck?” as grinding guitars chug along mechanically. The surrounding noise is disorientating, allowing Gordon to utterly wash out this vision of masculinity.

The album increasingly moves towards a menacing atmosphere as it reaches its conclusion, never quite abandoning the dark, hip-hop undercurrent created by Raisen’s production. The 808 beat of ‘Shelf Warmer’ complements the track’s sinister dissonance and Gordon’s quiet spoken word, while the album’s final two songs, ‘The Believers’ and ‘Dream Dollar’, build to an intense cacophony of fuzzy guitars and instrumental haze, leaving you swamped by the album’s unsettling claustrophobia.

The Collective is eerie and authentic in its depiction of and response to how we manage the absurdity of the world today but it also provokes something visceral via Gordon’s illustration of chaos. As an acclaimed artist, Gordon has been featured in galleries around the world and had numerous solo shows, including an exhibition of abstract paintings at New York’s 303 Gallery last year. It makes sense, then, that there is something innately visual about this album and the way it plugs into our anxieties about the digital age. At that exhibition, the largest artwork in the show was a piece also called ‘The Collective’, which included thirty rectangular, phone-shaped holes – perhaps a comment on our reliance and unwavering addiction to technology.

In addition to its provocations and Gordon’s drive to disrupt, The Collective is an intelligently produced record that manages to summarise a very specific sense of overwhelm, arguably inescapable in our everyday lives. Listeners might be surprised by Gordon’s turn towards hip-hop, especially at this point in her career. But in truth, we shouldn’t be – Gordon, forever the definition of cool, has always been one to flip the script, combining genres and ideas in a way that isn’t ever limiting or conventional. The Collective feels like a true portrayal of that chaos, in its content and also in Gordon’s refusal to be boxed-in by what she should or should not be doing. But it also perfectly scores those moments in between, when the anxiety rumbles, threatening to unmask our bleak realities.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today