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The Many Faces of Kim Gordon

by Raymond Cummings

The Many Faces of Kim Gordon

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Kim Gordon's 2015 memoir Girl in a Band looks back over decades as the bassist and sometime frontwoman for adventurous alt heroes Sonic Youth -- decades that included the painful dissolution of her marriage to SY's sometime frontman Thurston Moore. On 2013's Coming Apart, Gordon and Bill Nace, as Body/Head, conjured impressionistic drones as Gordon's vocals lay passive-aggressive waste to the divorce's semi-public wreckage. But her voice has always been an instrument for intensity, contempt, warmth, iciness, anxiety, and satisfaction; here, we look back at some of her finest vocal moments.

For ace bloodcurdling social commentary laced with bile, try Gordon's turn on Dirty classic "Drunken Butterfly." Better yet, check grunged-out Bad Moon Rising chestnut "Brave Men Run": Gordon yowls through clenched teeth, like she's in the thick of a convenience store stick-up, as opposed to the existential cool she exudes over the tumbleweed riffage of "Cinderella's Big Score" from Goo. By contrast, her vocal on Rather Ripped standout "Jams Runs Free" is all breathy, heathery perfection: the indie-skronk equivalent of a barefoot hippie dance on a Malibu beach. Her Britney Spears and Madonna send-ups attracted the most ink, but her baby-talked Mariah Carey takedown bears the most replay value ("Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream," from Sonic Nurse).

There's much to be said, though, for her less conventional turns: rolling around, disembodied, through eternal cymbal taps, on-the-fritz electronics and jazz-blat flatulence of "Invito Al Cielo"; trading non sequiturs with Moore and Yoko Ono on "Early in the Morning"; gasping over and quailing through the smothering, uber-workshopped noisescape of "Fried Mushroom" from her collaboration with Ikue Mori and DJ Olive. The dirty little secret of Gordon's career, though, is that she's at her sharpest when paired on the microphone with Pussy Galore's Julia Cafritz for their group Free Kitten, goofing on 1990s alt rock minutiae or blithely melding trad rock and turntablist mores.

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