Coming Apart

The thing about experimental noise is that you’ve got to have the time. A 70 minute double LP like this one is not something you can throw onto your record player to have a quick listen while you do the dishes before work. This album is your work. It demands your concentration, and to be honest, if you don’t give it that, I’m not sure what you’re going to get out of it.

But don’t worry, as chin-scratchy as that sounds, Coming Apart is by no means all "head". The strange architecture built on squalling feedback, hypnotic repetition, fuzzed-out distortion and Kim Gordon’s shipwrecked moans will also take your body and make it feel things. Your mind may wander, you may forget when one track ended and the next began but, as was written in the album’s accompanying text, when listening to drone music "one starts somewhere – at any point, then responds to it". There is a physicality to Body/Head’s music which – also given the length of the album – will cause you to feel mildly exhausted by the end. ‘Murderess’ is a fine example: a minimal track ostensibly driven by Gordon’s familiar off-kilter voice repeating the phrase "by the sea", it’s underpinned by a subtle helicopter heartbeat, which stealthily creeps into your consciousness until your own pulse must speed up to match.

It’s all pretty intense, but of course that’s what you’d expect of a duo such as Kim Gordon and Bill Nace, given their backgrounds in no wave and noise rock. With Body/Head, they’re referring back to a rawer, riskier era, creating something wholly unpredictable, based on "scripted improvisation". Gordon has stated that there was very little editing involved in the final product, and while this occasionally manifests in a bit of meandering, they repeatedly succeed in taking their noise somewhere interesting, rather than allowing it to become the chore that some of the Syd Barrett-era psychedelia they were influenced by can be.

Despite its unrelenting nature, I listened to much of Coming Apart while doing mindless data entry in a boring office, feeling lulled by the white-noise distortion towards the end of standout track ‘The Last Mistress’ (which escalates to a crescendo, before being broken by an ominous tolling bell of fuzz guitar) and the almost pastoral sounding ‘Untitled’. The album unravels slowly, hypnotically, an effect doubled in the live arena, when Body/Head perform in front of films slowed to glacial pace.

Kim Gordon herself has said that this is not happy music. Certain themes and phrases rise to the surface in her fragmented, haunted vocals, which are utilised just as much as an instrument as the two guitars. The initial Body/Head incarnation was mostly instrumental, but gradually the vocals began to take hold, and now appear on all but one of the tracks on Coming Apart. Here a dark female psyche is constructed. The personas Gordon speaks through – ‘Murderess’, ‘Actress’ , ‘The Last Mistress’ – evoke love and death and sex and bodily fluids, reflecting both her and Nace’s interest in french filmmaker Catherine Breillat.

Interestingly, Gordon has expressed her feeling that Bill Nace has a lot of "female energy" (she seemed to think this would annoy him), and perhaps this is the key to their symbiotic guitar playing. While it would be reaching to call this a "feminist" noise album, gender and sexuality are definite pre-occupations. These are expressed and explored within a maelstrom of distortion, and with neither guitar taking prominence over the other, dichotomies of who is the body and who the head, traditionally assigned female/male notions, become blurred on this challenging but beautiful album.

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