Skip to Content

Yes, Kim Gordon’s Fine Line Show Was Very Cool. But What Does That Mean?

The Sonic Youth alum's new music is beatwise noise-pop unlike anything she's tried before.


Kim Gordon is cool. Let’s just state the obvious up front, and then acknowledge that we’re not saying a lot.

So let’s add that Kim Gordon is cool because Kim Gordon is someone you want to be in the same room with. Even if that room is the Fine Line. Even if the Fine Line is sold out. Even if the closer you approach her, the more she recedes into the distance. Because to be cool is to define your personality through what you withhold. 

Gordon’s appeal doesn’t rest on effort or talent as it’s conventionally recognized. I’m not saying she doesn’t try or isn’t talented, but that her true art form is the way she refracts her coolness through her music. Which may be why at one point during Friday night’s Minneapolis show my friend Sarah wondered aloud “Do I like this? Or do I like this because it’s Kim Gordon?” and is certainly why the answer to both questions, we agreed, was “yes.” 

Gordon’s touring behind The Collective, the second album she’s recorded with producer Justin Raisen, a Sky Ferreira and Lil Yachty collaborator and therefore what you could call a designer of “long-shot pop.” Raisen supplies Gordon with something you could call trap beats, as long as you recognize them on the weirder edge of that continuum—think Playboi Carti’s recent oblong synthoids rather than the hypnotic malevolence of Metro Boomin’s ticka-tick-tick. 

Gordon then abrades these rhythm tracks with guitar and intones her typical short bursts of verbiage over top. The result is music unlike anything that the former Sonic Youth bassist (or anyone, I suppose) has recorded before. The sound is plenty noisy, but also shaped by contemporary rhythms and a conversationally singsong sensibility that, despite her narrow vocal range, comes naturally to her. 

This is also music that seems to exist in an imaginary space that's created, not performed. And since Gordon’s delayed tour behind her first Raisen collab, No Home Record, didn’t reach here in 2022, I was curious to hear how she translated this pop art project into a live experience. And I found out: with a pretty damn good rock band. 

Bassist Camilla Charlesworth doubled occasionally on electronics (she was responsible for the the nagging John Carpenter-like synth stabs on “Bye Bye”); with her floofy shirt, loosened tie, and hair in her eyes, drummer Madi Vogt seemed to cosplay as half the guys I graduated college with at the start of the ’90s. Usual lead guitarist Sarah Register wasn’t on hand, so much of the dissonance came via pre-recorded tracks. At times, it was as hard to distinguish between what was recorded and what was being produced live on stage as it was unnecessary. 

Gordon performed The Collective front to back, leading with “Bye Bye,” for which she rattles off a to-do list about preparing for a trip, possibly in the past (it references her late brother and an iBook), ticking off each item she’s packing with the detachment of a suicide bomber, her monotone projecting a sharp-edged, blasé vulnerability. That’s the sort of blurred intent that makes submitting to an aura of cool exciting. 

Gordon made some significant guitar noises during “Bye Bye,” but then she set the instrument aside for much of the show. It isn’t just the rockist in me that wishes she’d done a little more on her own to make up for Register’s absence. What she did play—a rubbery interlude determined not to grow into something nearly as fancy as solo on “Cookie Cutter,” an extended cacophonic burst produced while hunched down out of sight for the set closer, “Dream Dollar”—made me want to hear more, in part because there’s so little of herself in it. There’s nothing lyrical or expressive about Gordon’s guitar work, and I mean that as a compliment; it’s hard to excise those sorts of Romantic elements from your playing, but her guitar exists solely to punctuate a track. 

Gordon’s new lyrics, which typically come across as diary entries transformed into imagist poems, can be funny. She’s now back in L.A., a town she calls “an art scene” on “Psychedelic Orgasm,” a song on which she buys a $20 potato while “passing all the kids/Tik-Toking around.” Few of Gordon’s songs are as straightforward as the pointed monologue “I’m a Man,” told from a whiny, undersexed male POV, and even that at times feigns a slippery sympathy you can’t quite trust. Lyrically, cool can mean keeping a safe distance from fixed meaning, and you can’t always be sure she’s not making fun of you. 

Plenty of these songs start bland and turn sexy. “Trophies” is maybe the dirtiest song ever written about bowling (“Stick your fingers in the holes, hmm”) though I don’t think there’s a lot of competition. (Camper Van Beethoven wasn’t given over to smut.) The abstractions of “I Don’t Miss My Mind” pile up en route to chorus of “Jack it up/Make it up/Pack it up/Trade it up/Suck it up/Fuck it up.” “They don't tеach clit in school/Like they do lick pussy right?” she wonders on “It’s Dark Inside.”

Holding this all together was the Charlesworth-Vogt recreation of Raisen’s groove. It makes sense that as Lee Ranaldo has explored subtler and more lovely variations of his Sonic Youth playing on his excellent solo albums, and Steve Shelley has collaborated in multiple experimental group efforts, and Thurston Moore has wanly echoed his past achievements, Gordon has turned to up-to-date beats.

Gordon was always the most pop member of Sonic Youth, fantasizing about the inner lives of Karen Carpenter and Mariah Carey, singing “Addicted to Love” as though she was one of the blank models who back Robert Palmer in the video, exploring the push and pull of sexism and racism in hip-hop with “Kool Thing,” intoning the names of Sports Illustrated models on “Swimsuit Issue.” True, that interaction with the contemporary is on a strictly musical level here—Gordon doesn’t explore the Black sources of her music through her lyrics, which may be just for the best. 

Having concluded The Collective, Gordon’s encore was essentially a second and relatively more conventional set. She returned with the anthemic “Air BnB” from No Home Record. (That album title, which refers to the fact that Gordon had “no home” at the time, staying in Airbnbs while she house hunted, is also a play off the title Chantal Akerman’s 2016 film No Home Movie. And there are definite affinities between the two, with Gordon’s voice often suggesting a Jeanne Dielman waiting to chop her way out.) Also included was “Grass Jeans,” the most standard alt-guitar cut in Gordon’s book (recorded with J Mascis and released in 2021 to benefit Texas Choice), and, to top it off, a second performance of “Bye Bye.”

Gordon turned 71 in April, and, I know, big whoop—plenty of aging avant-gardists stay on their bullshit much longer than that, overindulged by our fondness for their schtick till they rattle on like endearing caricatures. But Gordon has refused to take that route so far. She could have stuck with Body/Head, her experimental two-guitar duo with Bill Nace, a comfortable art project with no discernable imposed structure that’s more conventionally avant-garde, to coin a paradox you know damn well exists. 

It can be hard to tell when cool people take risks because to be cool isn’t to appear intentional. To be cool is to forever seem to have just happened to do what it so happens you just did. So it can be easy to assume Kim Gordon was just being herself on stage last Friday. And maybe she was. But being Kim Gordon might be harder than it looks. 


Bye Bye
The Candy House
I Don't Miss My Mind
I'm a Man
It's Dark Inside
Psychedelic Orgasm
Tree House
Shelf Warmer
The Believers
Dream Dollar

Air BnB
Paprika Pony
Cookie Butter
Hungry Baby
Grass Jeans

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter