Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth on The Collective, her brilliantly dark new hip hop-inspired album

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth on The Collective, her brilliantly dark new hip hop-inspired album
  • PublishedMarch 23, 2024

Kim Gordon‘s new album The Collective is a harrowing 40 minutes of fractured beats, squalling noise, and spoken word diatribes on gender, capitalism, tenpin bowling, the American Dream, gun violence and so much more.

The 70-year-old musician and visual artist first came to our attention as a key member of New York noise rock legends Sonic Youth, one of the most influential rock bands in modern rock.

Outside of that band, whose 30-year career came to an end in 2011 after Gordon’s separation from husband and fellow founder Thurston Moore, her work has been decidedly noisier, more experimental, and focused on feeling as much as traditional song craft.

This month she released her second solo album The Collective, made in collaboration with producer Justin Raisen. Raisen has a history of working with indie stars like Angel Olsen, Yves Tumor and cutting-edge pop favourite Charli XCX, but has more recently found acclaim working with buzzed rappers like Lil Yachty, Drake and Kid Cudi.

“I told Justin I wanted to have more beats,” Kim Gordon tells Double J’s Karen Leng.

“I work off of rhythm better than melody. I’m not really much of a melodious singer. I like space.”

Indeed, those in search of melody on The Collective will be disappointed. Gordon’s vocal approach is more akin to a cross between a 60s beat poet and 80s rapper, as she spits scathing verses with her perennially alluring blend of coldness and cool. Her guitars are noisy and discordant.

Raisen’s beats are loud, distorted, and violent, sounding more like the backing for Atlanta rappers Playboi Carti or Destroy Lonely than Gordon’s legendary old band.

“[The Collective is] kind of an estimation of me bringing my dissonant guitars and my unconventional vocal style and weird lyrics [to those beats], and how it would all kind of mesh together,” Gordon says of the album.

“Justin would send beats, I would decide what I felt like I could do stuff on, then I would go in and make guitar parts and make up vocals. Or bring in some lyrics, but also improvise.

“Then he would sort of shape and edit it. Then I would maybe go back and do more. It was kind of a layered process.”

Gordon first tapped Raisen to help craft her debut solo album, 2019’s No Home Record. While that record was no less arresting than The Collective, it felt closer to Gordon’s indie rock roots than the new album, where both artists really embrace modern trap production.

Her willingness to follow her producer to the edge — and vice versa — is what makes the creative partnership so fruitful, Gordon says.

“I think he likes working with me because I’m very free and he gets to be free too and really take things as far as possible,” she says.

“He’s very supportive, and it’s almost like ‘I dare you to make a song out of this’.

“I think he really gets off on what his rapper friends think of the record. He’s like, ‘This is gonna blow their mind’.”

The album’s opening song and first single, BYE BYE, has been met with widespread adulation.

A tense and terrifying beat from Raisen is immediately anxiety inducing. Over the top, Gordon simply, calmly recites a packing list.

Hoodie, toothpaste
Brush, foundation
Contact solution
Lip mask, eye mask, ear plugs
Travel shampoo, conditioner
Eyeliner, dental floss
Money for the cleaners

“The music was so compelling and intense, but I didn’t want to do a vocal that tried to match it,” Gordon says.

“I thought a packing list would be really banal, something that could be a good contrast. The music makes it sound very anxious.”

Its accompanying video, featuring Gordon and Moore’s daughter Coco and directed by Clara Balzary (daughter of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea for those playing at home), is a gripping and disorienting tale of teen rebellion that has clocked up half a million views.

Most amusing to Gordon, though, is the song’s TikTok success.

BYE BYE is now the soundtrack to hundreds of TikTok videos. From people detailing skincare routines, to packing their own bags, to expressing shock at the creative ambition of a 70-year-old woman making an album of such vibrant intensity (they clearly don’t know Kim Gordon), its dark and jittery production and Gordon’s deadpan delivery have really connected with creators and users on the platform.

“I don’t even know what that means, honestly,” Gordon reveals.

“I mean, don’t people just listen to 15 seconds of music at a time? I don’t know. It’s fun. It’s funny. It’s so abstract to me.”

Gordon explores the fragility of masculinity on I’m A Man, as she speaks from the perspective of a confused man who feels disenfranchised by modern society.

“The song was inspired by a couple things: a right-wing politician, and these male groups who are going around saying feminism destroyed men and masculinity,” she explains.

“They’re a little whiny, but I was like, ‘Okay, what does it really sound like if you give voice to those complaints, instead of trying to argue with somebody about it? Let’s just hear what it is.'”

Its video juxtaposes the ‘traditional’ ideals of a man — specifically those seen in old western films — with the secret, somehow shameful desires of another man to dress in women’s clothes. It’s a simple comment on gender fluidity and those who try and repress it, but one that connects easily.

Gordon concedes, however, that there’s a long history of fluidity in music and that her peers and heroes may not feel the same reluctance to embracing their feminine side.

“Like Harry Styles… people made such a big deal about it, because he got a new stylist, and it kind of gave his career a boost. But Mick Jagger did that in ’68 or whatever, and David Bowie…” she considers.

“I do feel like music is a platform where men actually get to expose more of their female side, be more vulnerable, and it’s kind of more accepted.”

But what about the flip side? Does the music industry enable a woman to embrace her masculine side?

“You can,” Gordon considers with a laugh. “I think it’s a little different.”

“It’s very powerful if you’re playing the electric guitar, I don’t know about acoustic or if you’re a pop singer.

“There’s something about electricity and making loud sound that’s very powerful.”

In the brilliantly titled Psychedelic Orgasm, Gordon takes us on a trip through Los Angeles: buying $20 potatoes, watching kids sipping on smoothies, while also observing drive-by shootings and the unhoused starting fires in camps.

“It’s kind of a song about LA, but LA is sort of reflective of the rest of the country,” she says.

“These extremes of the wealth gap, and Millennials spending a lot of money on smoothies and coffee and stuff like that.

“It’s almost like a fantasy about, what if we just had a general strike, and everyone stopped doing what they’re doing and used our creativity in escaping, or something? Like in the ultimate passive aggressive way.”

While it still doesn’t pack much in the way of traditional melody, its choruses (if you can call them that) feature the very familiar modern sound of autotune. It fits beautifully, but Gordon took some convincing.

“I hate auto tune,” she says. “You hear it on every R&B [song], that filter. It just drives me crazy. So, I put it through all my vocal effect pedals. [Raisen] was like, ‘It’s ironic if you do it!’. I could see his point, so we kept it.”

The next step for Kim Gordon is taking The Collective on the road. She has a couple of dozen shows booked through North America, Europe, and Japan for mid-year, so the time has come to figure out how this curious and complicated record takes life with a band of real-life musicians.

“I’m trying to memorise the lyrics,” Gordon admits.

“I think our drummer Madi [Vogt] will have kind of a hybrid kit and be sampling some things. Sarah [Register], the guitar player, I think she’ll be sampling stuff. Then there’ll be some sounds that we can’t reproduce.”

As for a return to Australia? Gordon says she “definitely will” some time. Her longtime loyal fans will be there, perhaps alongside a whole new generation aching to experience their new obsession.


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