Body/Head The Switch

[Matador; 2018]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: noise, drone, experimental rock
Others: Wolf Eyes, Goslings, The Dead C, White Suns

Boredoming. It’s such a wandering imperial sneeze, whatever presentation one might be witnessing. That bemused snort when there isn’t the threat of violence or epiphany. The way it can ripple through a crowd is not unlike the sunset leaking in around your periphery before you’ve had a chance to break focus and regard it. With this in mind, one remembers the saving grace of the lateral move. One must come again to the simple pleasure of strapping in and going as nowhere as you possibly can.

Not just with bludgeoning or bellowing, but with a patient sort of fussing at loose threads. Some entanglements are ripped, some extracted with care, but there is never resolution, because disentangling is putting a seal on something you wish to excavate. Such is the way of Kim Gordon and Bill Nace with their output as Body/Head. It is minimal, studious mucking that resists the easy out of pop confection or groove. That tendency is arguably, at times, more dull and more self-indulgent in its audience-approval-chasing than two sodden progressions engaging placidly with their miredness could ever be. It is pure freedom in stagnancy. Both musicians possess an attentive, slow roving ear, attuned to lovely fleeting seams in dense patches of obfuscated texture and stunted rhythm.

As gorgeous and enthralling as 2013’s Coming Apart was/is, the sprawling nature of it lends itself more to a sense of process or stab-taking. While those are still applicable to this and many other fine noise releases, in Coming Apart’s case, it’s a slight detriment. The album’s minimalism seems to brush more against the hunt for signification by way of Kim Gordon’s inimitable dry vocal style and pointed yet abstract lyricism. It’s much more Sonic Youth-like in this way, thereby coming dangerously close to resembling a sleepwalked detour from her work there. The live shows that Body/Head have done in the interim, where much of the material comprising The Switch sprang from, seems to’ve helped them nail down a more cohesive approach. It’s still wide open, drifting music, but with a relative brevity that helps it lodge more with the listener as an album.

Having suggested that this record is “a stoner record for non-stoners,” it occurs just how much Gordon continues to thrive on contradiction. There is definitely some of the sludgy tone of stoner metal, but with none of the drug culture trappings of that idiom. Their approach is trusting of the transportive wash of pure drone over its potential psychotropic compatibility. It is bluesy, but in the Charalambides sense. Which is to say that, while roots-centric, there is such a steady commitment to thick malfunction and simmering reduction that it never falls into pothead-friendly avant-pop sugar (not to necessarily cast aspersions on that sort of thing when there’s wonderful weirdo confectioners like Tim Presley, Jenny Hval, or Ariel Pink out there).

Blessedly, The Switch feels feral, like some slow-burn raging, wheezing beast that teeteringly stalks to the edge of your perception. It’s a lopsided listen, the channels often competing with each other like overlapping Altman dialogue. In this fever, The Switch exudes the feel of scratchy, sharp, rash-red sensations in damp, stagnant air. It not only suggests melted popsicle flies refrozen and grated into a coil of dandelion greens in a half-darkened kitchen, but also makes it seem appetizing. This disorientingly blurty, blown-out dustcloud regatta has been dubbed hypnotic, but it comes off (especially at the proper volume of 70% or higher) more like a staggering sort of headfuck.

Highlight “Change My Brain” is so stereo-unfriendly (low on one side, high on the other) as to recommend one play this album via bluetooth, but it’s an interesting effect (especially on headphones) and gives an oddly voyeuristic dimension to the smothered lament. A big part of the reason this imbalance works here and elsewhere on the album is the combined shrewd and devil-may-care expressiveness of both guitarists. It also bears mentioning that Gordon’s vocals sound a lot more confident and of a musical piece here than the sort of smoke-clearing, message-from-the-depths effect they took on with Coming Apart. Her and Nace (whose album last year with Paul Flaherty and Chris Corsano is a fantastic, fathomlessly cathartic dive) sound completely knitted in terms of both overblown extremes and hairpin turns to melodic edging.

It’s the music’s imperfect, frayed charm that makes The Switch stick out beyond the obvious pedigree of its personnel. It is a rousing success, both as a compelling artifact of the noise/drone continuum and as a dossier on where Body/Head has been and are now. It’s less a provocation and more a taste that’s keen, whether swathes acquire it or not.

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