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Kim Gordon Rides The Thin Line Between Hip And Gimmick With ‘The Collective’

Singer Kim Gordon performing a song on stage at a concert at the Astra in Berlin, Germany in 2002
Jana Legler/Redferns

Kim Gordon is cool. Maybe you've heard about it. In fact, Kim Gordon has been cool for her entire career as a solo star and with Sonic Youth, hell, probably her whole life. That breathy singing voice that maintains a youthful vigor underneath its grizzled, cigarette-fueled rasp is a delight on any record, bringing natural harmony and character to her art-punk ethos. She has a natural charisma and style that's undeniable, both audibly and visually. My favorite Sonic Youth records were usually the ones where she was the most prominent, like "Kool Thing" or "Bull In The Heather."

Kim Gordon just released her new solo album The Collective, the followup to 2019's No Home Record, and it's getting a lot of good press primarily because of how much parts of it sound like it could be a Playboi Carti record, or at least at home with his Opium records house style. But Opium Kim is a bit of a misnomer. Sure, lead single "BYE BYE" absolutely sounds like it could be a Whole Lotta Red loosie, and Gordon's choice to spend the record just listing items off a grocery list in that perfectly Kim Gordon style, is inspired and genuinely a lot of fun. But it's also a bit of a sleight-of-hand for the record at large.

In truth, much of The Collective feels like the logical conclusion to where she was trying to get to on No Home Record: music that melds electronic, house, alternative rock/punk and, yes, a lot of trap drums. Those drums are getting a lot of the attention, as it appeals to a certain type of music listener who refuses to engage with rap music in any real way unless someone like Gordon gives them a green light to do so. America has never been able to resist white girls who dabble in rap, from Blondie's "Rapture" to the girls on YouTube making acoustic covers of hip-hop songs in the 2010s.

None of this is Gordon's fault or even intention. Aside from the aforementioned "BYE BYE" and "The Candy House," which sounds a little like "Pi'erre Bourne meets Three 6 Mafia," complete with that muddled lo-fi affect, you could hardly call this Kim Gordon doing trap music. The album is in keeping with her avant garde style, pushing the constraints of genre, of singing, and of music. Also the songs are good, which keeps it from voyaging into something that feels gimmicky. It is interesting, though, that the takeaway seems to be "Kim Gordon sings over trap beats" both as something uniquely interesting or just unique at all. Singing over trap beats has been popular for at least a decade now, from artists like ABRA or Brent Faiyaz.

What was interesting to me about this album was the realization of Gordon as a Lou Reed type of figure for this next generation of music. The Collective felt like her version of LULU, Reed's concept album with Metallica. On that album, Reed ventured toward something, not quite modern but certainly adventurous and challenging, and there's a lot of that here with Gordon. An OG of her genre, still adventurous and still acting as a guidepost for artists behind her. It would've been easier if she were just trying to stay hip or stay relevant by getting young producers to queue up some drums on Fruity Loops, but the deeper you burrow into the record, on songs like "Psychedelic Orgasm" and "The Believers," you get the sense she's searching through and deconstructing a variety of sources and styles trying to mine something that feels urgent and necessary. It's all very exciting and interesting on its own accord, and saves the album from being some kitsch idea, because you don't need Kim Gordon to justify why trap records are artistic.

Correction (3:24 p.m. ET): Sonic Youth's 1990 song off the album Goo was "Kool Thing," not "Kool Girl."

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